The Power of Authentic Listening
She can’t let anything go! What does she want from me? I can’t change the past. Yet, she keeps harping on what I did wrong --- last week, last year, even 20 years ago, remembering every little detail of what happened. She takes everything so seriously. Why can’t she lighten up and let go?
He needs to see the pattern. He thinks everything is over once it’s over; no big deal. Well, some things are a big deal to me. He doesn’t appreciate how my feelings get hurt. That what he does or doesn’t do affects me. Some of his behavior is inappropriate. And I’d like it fixed.
He fires back:
Yup fixed! That’s what she wants to do to me. Fix me. I’m not all right as I am. Funny thing, she liked me enough before we were married. But now, it’s all about fixing me to conform to her way of thinking, speaking, dressing, driving, drinking, eating, you name it.
He’d love it if I never said anything about what’s bothering me. He wants me to shrug off what I’m feeling and just move on. A lot of times I do let things go; I don’t say anything. But if I can never talk about what’s troubling me, what kind of marriage do we have?
When she says she needs to “talk about it,” this is what she really means. She wants to be able to bring up any incident that has happened over the years, any time she wants, for as long as she wants, whenever she wants. Rest assured, her interpretation of the “facts” is the correct one, while my interpretation is always wrong. Tell me, how does she get to be judge and jury, while I get to be the defendant?
What’s so bad if I need to talk about what’s happening? It’s true that he doesn’t let things bother him. He thinks that’s normal; I think it’s weird. How am I supposed to let go of what’s irking me if we don’t speak about it? How can I stop thinking about it, when nothing’s been resolved?
What to do when partners have such disagreements?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Scratch the blame game. It’s just poking and defending and nobody wins. Instead of pointing fingers at one another, accept a share of the responsibility for the difficulties in your relationship.
- Listen…take a deep breath… then choose your response. Usually that means suggesting a compromise; you give something to get something. In the above example, he lets her vent while she limits her complaining to the key points she wants to make.
- Aim for dialogues, not monologues. It helps to be heard if you not only say your piece but also ask how the other person is experiencing what you’re saying.
- Talking should not become a license to rage or go on forever, overwhelming your partner with excessive details.
- The listener has an active role in helping his partner let go. It helps to validate what was said. Example: “I know you want me to be more open about my work. Yes, I can do that, but give me a gentle reminder if I forget.”
When you are the listener, avoid:
- Minimizing what was said (“it’s no big deal”)
- Stonewalling (“I’m not talking about it”)
- Cross-complaining (“you know what’s wrong with you”)
- “Yes, but” responses (“yes you’re right, but I can’t change”)
Who ever said communication was easy? Yet, despite the difficulties, if you value your relationship it’s worth putting effort into improving it.
So, instead of accusing, try pooling your accumulated wisdom, compassion and kindness to find a way to deal with each other’s differences.
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.