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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

The reason I am saying this is...

I repeat this statement several times a week to my husband, I also use it with my coaching clients and regularly in the classroom. Why? Because I have learned that if I assume others understand my intention then I will be confused when they react in a way I wasn't expecting.

It all started a few years ago when my husband and I were first together. I would often ask him, what he was doing the next day and he would regularly seem frustrated. For me, asking about someone's plans was a fairly normal thing to ask, as far as I was concerned, and in general I was curious because his day might impact my day if we were to spend time together. What I didn't know then, which I do now, is that for my husband me asking him about his day felt challenging, like I was checking up on him. It also meant he needed to have a plan and as someone who was not used to having plans too far ahead, that also felt like pressure. How was I to know that, and more importantly, how was he to know why I was actually asking?

This got me thinking about why I was asking. There was several reasons from the mundane to the more personal. I would often ask so that I could plan dinner, as I wouldn't know what time he would be home. I would sometimes ask for my own agenda because, perhaps, there was something I needed him to do. I also asked because of my own hypervigilance and the need for predictability to feel safe, and I also asked so that I had some sense of control over our lives, linked to my attachment needs.

Predictability is a necessary part of secure attachment. The desire for predictability can have different motives, depending on your dominant attachment pattern, at any given time. In this context my avoidant pattern has always been about saving myself from shame or guilt. Knowing what's happening means I can be prepared, I can make sure I don't make any mistakes and most importantly I can avoid unnecessarily upsetting anyone. The problem with the last reason is, way back then at the start of our relationship, I didn't know that, and that also meant my husband didn't know that either.

Once I got a handle on my own motives and worked on my self-awareness, the next thing was learning how to communicate this to my husband. It's not the most comfortable place to be, admitting your inner thoughts and insecurities, but I am fortunate that my husband and I have worked hard to create a safe and open space within our marriage for just that. This conversation, and all the others that ensued, birthed the sentence 'the reason I am saying/asking this is...' When my husband realised I was asking about his plans because of my own need for safety, it changed his answers. Knowing that I was not checking up on him, or challenging him, opened a space for him to ask why the question bothered him.

It is not unusual for someone with avoidant attachment to be in a relationship with someone with anxious attachment. As I mentioned earlier a large part of avoidant attachment is the need to feel in control. This stems from a fear that no one can look after you other than yourself. Someone with anxious attachment often has a fear, or a belief, that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. This means that questions that challenge their actions or question their behaviour, can cause them to become defensive for fear that if they are found out they will be abandoned. This is why being transparent, predictable, open, and honest in your communication is essential for creating secure attachment.

By explaining to others why I am asking a question, or saying something, it prevents any confusion or the need for mind reading on the part of the listener. In intimate relationships this honesty creates greater intimacy and can build greater levels of trust in relationships, because people know where they stand with you. The challenge is admitting to yourself what your motives are, especially if they are linked to attachment needs or insecurities.

Now that I have established the habit of explaining my motives, my husband is less bothered by my questions. He knows it is about me and not him and that I am not checking up on him or waiting for him to make a mistake. With my clients it means they know why a question is relevant for their understanding of themselves and not me simply asking out of curiosity. With students it can help them see the bigger picture of their work and why doing something might be important.

Creating security in relationships means recognising your own needs and taking the time to get to know the needs of those around you. It means being transparent in your communication but also acknowledging that different attachment patterns have different needs and these will manifest in a variety of behaviours and communication styles. The next time you ask someone a question, take a moment to reflect on why you want to know. If the answer is a practical one, see if you can find the real need behind it. Like me, you might find it is linked to fear or making mistakes, or being judged or a need to feel in control.

Interested in improving the communication in your relationship? You can book a free discovery session to discuss what bespoke coaching programme with me would be best for you. I'd love to hear from you, Elfreda

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