Would you like to have a happier, more fulfilling relationship? Believe it or not, there is a simple strategy that you can use (one I routinely teach to my Marriage Counseling clients) that will help you create the kind of connection you’ve always wanted. It’s powerful stuff. And it can work so dramatically, and so quickly, that it seems like magic.
How it Works:
Visualize your last major argument with your partner.
Allow yourself to feel the hurt, the anger. Watch yourself attempt to communicate your distress to your partner… and what happened next. Did they tell you why you were wrong? Or did they insist “that’s not what happened,” and minimize your feelings? Did they get reactive and angry? Or did they stop participating in the conversation? All of the above? Yes? (Are you tense yet?)
My guess is that you became increasingly frustrated and upset as you tried, in vain, to make yourself understood, and were met by a partner that seemed like they were made of poison asps, a brick wall, or Teflon. That’s where extreme freak-out fights come from— trying to communicate with someone who will not listen to you.
What Empathy Feels Like
Let’s have a re-do. Imagine that as you were telling your partner how upset you felt they just…. calmed down. They took a deep breath, relaxed, set their own agenda aside, and simply focused their energy on understanding you.
You could see in their eyes that they saw your pain and cared about it. They asked gentle questions to help you uncover your feelings and understand why you felt the way you did. You felt like you had all the time in the world to talk through your feelings with a patient, mature person who loved you.
Can’t you just feel the anger flowing out of you as you imagine this scenario? You don’t need to be angry… you are being heard.
Understanding, Connection, and Responsiveness
You can talk about what upset you, and why it hurt or scared you. You can use the situation to help your partner know you more authentically– your vulnerabilities, hopes, and dreams. You are open to learning why your partner originally reacted to you the way they did, and that deepens your understanding of them too.
You leave the conversation feeling more connected, and like your relationship just deepened.
Then, imagine that this connection led to responsiveness. Your partner understood what you needed from them. And then they followed through— communicating their love through their actions. They turned off the TV and asked about your day. They initiated an intimate evening. They took care of something without being asked. (Cue angelic choir singing).
You have the power to create this positive relational utopia.
You do it by becoming the kind, loving understanding person I just described — instead of wishing they would understand you. You can be calm, validating, empathic and responsive towards them. This will help start a positive relationship cycle.
Angels are no longer singing. I now hear chirping crickets.
I often bring this “you have the power to improve this” idea up in therapy sessions and am met with the response of “Pfftt! No! I am too angry / resentful / hurt to be empathic or generous. I am the victim here so until my partner stops being an ass I cannot give first. No.”
It’s okay. I know this is hard to do. However, relationships are always systems. Your partner is not just acting. They are reacting. To you.
When you settle in to listening and understanding mode, your partner will calm down, and probably feel really cared for by you. They will then be more loving and compassionate with you.
If you are putting love, empathy and understanding into your interactions with your partner you will get much more of it back. Give it a try– you might be surprised by the results!
— Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby