In relationships and of course marriages, we might love
our partner but sometimes we may not like
them very much. Sure, we can be mad and know we still love them, but given the choice are they someone we would want to date? Are you someone they would date? Oh my gosh, are you someone you
Many couples come into my office and say their main issue is of course communication. “We don’t communicate.” I hear that over and over. It is true too. Of course they use words and actions to communicate so it would seem as though it should not be so hard. Yet, it is hard. What is really going on is at a deeper level they do not believe the other person actually understands them. When we do not sense that feeling of being understood, typically our response will be to repeat and repeat ourselves in vain, leading to emotions such as frustration and anger when we cannot get to feeling understood. It is as though our partner is unavailable to us. We may react to those emotions by escalating the situation with that anger or perhaps instead we shut down and move distant. Sound ripe for a big fight? Fortunately these arguments are completely avoidable with a few simple rules of engagement.
First let’s talk about dating. When we go out on a date, usually it signals that we like or are open to liking the other person. When you are going out on a date I think it is safe to say that we hold an expectation that the other person will make an effort to be kind, considerate, polite, and respectful in our presence, and we plan to do the same. If they are not these things, we probably will not want to go out with them again. Would you ever want to date someone who was rude, inconsiderate and contemptuous? Do you already? Are you married to them?
What if you are the one who is rude, inconsiderate and contemptuous? Be honest. If you really dislike your partner and are unwilling to be a nice person to be around, then why are you in the relationship? You are torturing them and probably living an unhappy life. On the other hand, and hopefully, if you are willing to put in the effort to build or rebuild your relationship, here are a few basic things you can do right now to help the relationship feel better quickly. 1. Be Present with Them
If your partner is talking to you it is important for you to actually pay attention. This is one people blow all the time. When they are talking, are you texting, looking at email, half watching television? If so, you are not fully present and they feel it. Soon they will either get angry at you or quit trying.
How do you communicate that you are listening and are interested? Hold eye contact, nod your head and say things like, “uh huh.” “Okay.” “No kidding.” Have you ever tried to share something important with someone who had a blank face and did not give you cues that they were listening and interested? How did that go for you? Also know it is okay to ask questions to help you understand. That is participation.
Now I know what you are thinking. No, this does not mean you have to drop everything anytime they start talking. Yet, there are some critical moments to do this. Moments of reconnection, when one or both of you return from work, is one. Whoever comes home goes and finds the other person, greets them ideally with a hug, and you talk for ten to fifteen minutes to connect with each other
. This is the time to be fully present and share. The other time to tune in is when your partner clearly wants or needs to have a conversation about something important to them. If you are often distracted, you are communicating “You are not important enough for me to stop and listen.” Trust me, communicating that will not go well for you in the long run. 2. Listen Without Interrupting
One reason why people interrupt is to clarify something the other person said. Avoid this; it is merely a fantasy. Everyone has their own story, their own truth. Sure, it is great to try and reconcile your experience with your partner, and if you can do it gently it will work sometimes. However I am willing to wager that the facts you are trying to correct will side track your partner way from their real intentions behind sharing their story. It will also block them from getting their need for feeling understood and being important met. Correcting them will both side track their story and leave them feeling dismissed. In response you will either get a bunch of charged energy that looks like anger, or they will shut down and give up. 3. Do not try to “fix it”
Guess what: I will venture to say that out of 100 times your partner is sharing something, maybe in ninety-eight of those times they just want you to listen with compassion and concern. I will avoid using the word “never” here; however only one to three times out of 100 they may actually want your advice. When you are sharing something, are you looking for them to tell you what you should do? I doubt it. Emotional safety and intimacy is where partners can share their thoughts and feelings. If you jump in with the “fix it tool”, particularly before they finish, you will not be seen as emotionally safe. Stop doing that. Stop using the “fix it” tool
. It is the wrong tool.
Instead, listen for and acknowledge their emotions; use empathy
. “Wow, you seem angry about that.” “You look like that really makes you sad.” “That is really upsetting isn’t it?” When you do this you communicate that they are important to you, you care, you see them, you understand their experience and how it impacts them, and on and on. If you have a brilliant idea that you do not think they see, ask permission. “I have a thought on that if you are interested.” “Have you thought about _____.”That is light years from, “You just need to _________.” Or, “You should _______.” Those statements only cause others to raise their defensive shields and resist you at all costs. No one likes to be told what to do. Do you? 4. Express Appreciation
Finally, express appreciation. Do you already say please and thank you? If not, start right now by calling or texting your partner and thanking them for something. They may faint, so consider whether or not they are somewhere appropriate first. Everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated because we all work hard in life. Do you ever tell your partner that? Making deposits into their self-esteem will never hurt the relationship or your efforts to get them to meet your needs.
What does that look like? When they do something you do not like, I will bet you can lecture them for twenty minutes without pausing to think. Sure, that is easy to do. Do you lecture your children that way? Do you like it when someone lectures you? What happens when they do something right? “Thanks.” “Nice job.” Where is the energy going? Yes, the wrong way. Can you see how out of balance the communication is? This energy balance has to change.
What if you expressed appreciation and gratitude like this: “Hey I wanted to thank you for making my lunch today. It was really great not having to worry about where I was going to eat. I know you have a lot to do in the morning, so thank you. When you do that for me, I feel really important to you.” You tell me, if you express appreciation for your partner that way, will life get better for you? Will your partner and your children be drawn in to wanting to do more for you because it feels good to them? How would you like to be treated?
There you go; four very simple, powerful and effective things you can do right now to help your relationship start to feel better. Remember the golden rule: Do unto others, as you want other to do unto you. How about starting right now?