By Melissa Coats - True Connection Tuesday
Allow me to set a scene for you. I’m standing looking at my partner, who has known me for YEARS, and I have a distinct look of awe on my face as we go for the third round in an argument that has moved from one floor of the house and back again twice. “He doesn’t care or understand at all!” is the thought. The hurt and disbelief are so powerful that I can literally not understand how this person who has known me forever doesn’t comprehend my perspective and why I am upset.
I think it is fair to say that you are not alone. Recently, as we enter the holiday season, still trying to manage challenges from the pandemic, I have heard more and more couples struggling with feeling misunderstood by their partner. First of all, in a “normal” year, the holidays stir up plenty of disagreements on family, boundaries, how to spend your time, money, stress…you name it. This year, we have feelings about politics and pandemics to contend with, among so many other things.
We already usually don’t have all of the same views and values as our partners. Then, enter assumptions. Assumptions can have a devastating effect on relationships. We may assume that our partner already knows how we feel about something or assume that they think the same way as we do.
Assumptions can sound like this:
- “I can’t believe you just asked me that. You know how I feel about ______.”
- “How would you feel if I told/asked you the same thing?”
- “We talked about this. How can you not remember?”
- “You never think about me or my feelings.”
When we assume that our partner knows how we feel, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Managing our expectations of our partner is crucial. Instead, what if we were to assume…
1. My partner naturally thinks, sees, and experiences the world differently than I do. They have a different background than me.
2. Maybe their views are a valuable addition to the way I see the world and vice versa.
3. It’s ok that we see things differently!
If I reflect on these things and begin to value that my partner has ways of seeing the world that may help me even though they are different, I relieve the pressure to always agree and set myself up for a more intimate connection with my partner.
“Ok, so what do I do about all of this?”
It’s a question I get a lot. If you assume anything, assume that your partner sees things differently and needs help seeing your experience clearly. Here are some thoughts on how to help them connect to your experience…
1. Lead with compassion for both you and your partner – this is hard stuff, and accessing compassion will always bring you closer than accessing defensiveness.
2. Pretend like you are giving your partner a tour of your own feelings. Use feeling words instead of accusatory statements. For example:
3. Actively listen to your partner and ask them to actively listen to you. Active listening means I am not formulating my response before my partner is done talking, but I am genuinely trying to understand their experience. It is ok to say to your partner, “I am going to try not to be defensive as I talk about my feelings. Can I ask you to try to really hear my experience?”
4. Validate, validate, validate – your own feelings and your partners. All emotions are valid and have useful information for us. Not all feelings are evidence. Your frustration is not evidence that your partner doesn’t care. But it is information that something is hurting you and needs to be processed. Just because we validate our partner’s feelings does not mean we fully agree with them, but it means we can understand what that feeling is like. And isn’t that what we all want, to be understood?
If you are having trouble with this, there is never anything wrong with reaching out to a therapist for help. Remember, be kind and gentle with yourself and those around you this holiday season.