Every now and then a couple comes to me saying things like:
-“We have a really strong relationship.”
-“We usually communicate really well.”
-“We just have this one problem that we can’t work through—can you help us?!”
Committed couples make a lot of decisions together: when to move in with each other, whether to get married, where to live, parenting and childcare decisions—these are the big ones. Not to mention the day-to-day decisions like household chores and what to do on the weekends.
If communication goes well most of the time, but you notice yourself getting really stuck on a specific issue, it’s likely that a deeper concern for one or both of you is affecting you—but not really getting addressed.
We need to uncover the deeper concern and work through it in order to get unstuck—and this can only be done by slowing down and trying to understand each other.
Two Troublesome Tactics that are keeping you stuck:
- Explaining your point of view and why it is “right.”
- Trying to solve the problem too soon (before you understand your partner).
Of course you want your partner to understand your point of view! And we all would like to move through arguments more quickly to a solution.
The problem with these tactics is that we can lose connection to what’s most important to our partner when we communicate this way.
When we do these things, we:
-Risk coming up with a solution that will lead to more problems or resentment,
-and neither partner feels understood by the other on a deeper level.
The likelihood of the argument coming up again and again—or even worse, resentment starting to boil under the surface—is just too high when we don’t put in the effort to understand where our partner is coming from.
Get Unstuck by Listening and Building Empathy:
Go against the urges to solve the problem or to be right and try to understand your partner. When our focus becomes trying to understand our partner’s perspective, their defenses go down and we can learn new information that can change our own point of view for the better. When our partner takes the time to understand us (because ideally this goes both ways), we feel more respected, understood and closer to our partner.
The coolest thing about slowing down and trying to understand each other is that problems slowly start to solve themselves when we have more information to work with. We also feel more like a team instead of opposing legal counsel.
How to do this:
Decide together you’d like to set some time up to discuss the problem and try to understand each other better. The goal is to seek a deeper understanding of your partner without offering solutions or telling them why you think they are wrong.
Take turns exploring each other’s perspectives.
When you are seeking to understand/build empathy for your partner, you can say things like:
- What I understand about your perspective is…
- What makes sense to me about what you are saying is…
- What doesn’t make sense to me is…(can you tell me more about that? I want to understand where it’s coming from, how you are feeling or what you are needing.)
When your partner is trying to better understand you, you can say things like:
- When we talk about this, I feel…
- What I need most from you as support is…
- What I most need from the situation is…
- What I’m most afraid about/nervous about is…
Only after each partner feels better understood by the other is it time to move on to compromising or decision-making. At this point, you each should be able to list:
- The things you both agree on.
- The 1-2 most important things to each person.
The best resolutions incorporate the deeper needs of each person. It’s not an easy process—but it’s so worth it. Couples counseling can help if you continue to get stuck or if it’s too hard to use the communication skills outlined in the article.