One of the biggest issues plaguing relationships is a lack of communication. So often I see couples arguing over who said what, never really stopping to check in and see what the other person really meant. Often when we communicate with our partners we tend to hear something completely different than what is actually being said. For instance, one of my clients once explained to me that she always felt criticized by her partner. When asked to provide an example, she mentioned a time when she was loading the dishwasher and her partner asked her if she needed help. Now, to most people, this would seem innocent enough. However, for this particular person, who had spent a majority of her life feeling insecure and unworthy, what she heard was a thinly veiled criticism about her inability to do anything right. She felt as though her partner was insinuating that she was not loading the dishwasher correctly. Instead of checking in with her partner about this, she exploded. She accused her partner of belittling her and assuming that she was unable to complete this simple task without assistance. Her automatic assumption prohibited her from hearing what her partner was really saying.
We often write stories in our heads based on our past experiences and automatic assumptions. In the heat of the moment it is hard to remember to pause and check in with our partner, however, this is often what can save us from a misunderstanding. If this person would have checked in with her partner and explained that she was hearing a criticism, her partner would have had the opportunity to clarify and explain that she was simply offering to help.
Try these 3 ways to communicate more effectively with your partner:
1. Push pause– When you feel yourself becoming triggered, take a breath. Ask yourself: What did my partner really say? What story am I writing in my head?
2. Check in– Ask your partner to clarify. Explain how you are feeling and what you think you heard.
3. Listen– After you have explained your feelings to your partner, listen to their explanation. Focus on just their words, without adding your own meanings and interpretations.
Remember: This takes work! Both you and your partner must be willing to engage, but if you are invested in your relationship, it’s worth the effort.