On Sunday evening, June 6, “Let’s Get Real with Coach Menachem” hosted its 58th program, which was an informative virtual lecture featuring two well-respected, knowledgeable therapists: Dr. Binyamin Tepfer (a well-known therapist in Cedarhurst, New York) and Mr. Moshe Norman (a well-known therapist in Lakewood, New Jersey).
Coach Menachem Bernfeld introduced the program by stating that wherever you go there are relationships. You have a spouse, children, relatives, neighbors, in-laws, work colleagues, etc. Only seven percent of our communication is verbal, because there is our facial expression and nonverbal communication, which expresses the emotions behind what we say. We need emotional intelligence to read what another person is really expressing. We need to notice how he expresses himself, and what he is trying to say. We also need to learn how to say no and to accept a no.
Dr. Tepfer shared that there is more communication going on in the world now than any other time in the history of the world. We are bombarded with communication. However, the irony is that when he counsels couples, the emerging theme is an aspect of loneliness. People feel misunderstood or detached. People say that they feel lonely within the relationship. Clients say, “I don’t feel anyone understands me.”
Another person said, “My wife doesn’t get me at all.” Dr. Tepfer noted, “We are so bombarded by communication but somehow we feel lost trying to connect. This is true even as we end social distancing and remove masks. We still feel as if we are hiding and detached from one another.” He imparted the question, “How do we move toward connection and communication?”
Once, Rav Shmuel Salant paid a shiv’ah call to a family of young children who lost their father. He initiated the conversation and asked them about their father. Later, one of his students asked why he did that, as usually at a shiv’ah call you wait for the mourners to begin speaking. Rav Salant explained that when he sat down, he heard their crying and pain. This was why he opened the conversation first. He understood their nonverbal communication.
The problem today is we are sharing information with one another, but we are not communicating with one another. Our greatest fear is that if someone really learns who I really am, then he will not love me anymore. We are afraid of vulnerable conversation. It is tempting to play it safer and not really share anything real. We can become someone who blames others or who is a people-pleaser. In reality, the deepest healing thing that we want most is for someone to truly know us and love us, and desire more of us.
Dr. Tepfer then taught two ingredients for good communication and connecting to another person. First, we have to open ourselves to let another know all about us, not just superficial details. To open up requires vulnerability and confidence. The Baal Shem Tov taught that when Hashem told Noach to go into the ark, He was saying something deeper. He was saying: Open up to show your real self. Dr. Tepfer advised that one way to do this is to avoid using qualifiers. Do not say, “I was a little nervous.” Say, “I was nervous.” Qualifiers hold us back from fully coming in.
The second ingredient is to forget about yourself and make room and space for the other person. This means to listen in a deep way and try to understand the feelings beneath the words. Then we need to accept and embrace that other person. The prerequisite is that a person is required to have intimacy with himself. He needs self-knowledge of his own feelings and thoughts. There is a jungle inside of us, and if a person is open and honest, he can confront that part of himself and then he can communicate honestly and appropriately. This means accepting the shameful parts of himself. There are ways to do this, like journals, therapy, and talking openly with Hashem.
On the other hand, not everything needs to be shared. There are appropriate things to share. It is not realistic to think that one person can house all the needs of another. We need to have multiple relationships in our life. A person cannot just rely on one other person. This is not realistic.
Next, Mr. Moshe Norman, LCSW, and host of Mondays with Moshe Show, cautioned that learning communication skills does not take the place of psychotherapy. He then shared a meaningful acronym to help us with communication, APOD. “A” stands for assertiveness, and this is a prerequisite for all communication. We need some sense that we are entitled and that we can communicate assertively. We need to discern the difference between assertive and aggressive. He explained that often a person behaves aggressively because he does not feel entitled. “P” stands for precise communication. “O” stands for open communication and “D” stands for direct communication.
He then elaborated on each concept. Direct communication is really important. People sometimes skirt the main point. A wife might say to her husband, “You’re being mean to me.” This does not communicate a want or need. It would be better for the wife to say, “If you are upset at me, please tell me specifically why, instead of being mean to me.”
“Please stop banging on the table,” is a direct statement. “Banging is bothering me,” is less direct. The first one sets up boundaries. Subtlety can make a difference in boundaries in a relationship.
Next, he taught that open communication means discussing your feelings with another person. This is for spouses or friends but not really with children. He pointed out that couples struggle with being fully open and transparent with each other. That does not mean telling each other everything you think of or everything you have done. It means being fully open and transparent. There is a tremendous amount of shame people feel and they are afraid to open up to each other. We need to open up to each other. We need to face each other like the K’ruvim did in the Mishkan and in the Beis HaMikdash. This means telling your feelings and what you want or need. When we can face ourselves and report our feelings, then the other person can apologize or explain himself, and this will allow the couple to problem-solve together. He imparted that “the ability to be vulnerable with each other brings tremendous relief and closeness in the relationship.” Couples should sit down together and make a mutual agreement that we may have days we struggle with ourselves and each other but that does not mean I do not love you.
After this, he elaborated on precision in communication. Saying “I feel good” is vague. We should be more specific. “It’s hurtful” or “it’s frustrating” is more specific. Mr. Norman shared that communication is the y’sod of most quarrels in relationships. “To maintain strong relationships, it’s all about communication.” He noted that validation builds closeness. It’s an end in itself. This does not mean we should validate the invalid.
Following these enlightening speeches, there was a lively Q&A session.
By Susie Garber