Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do you know how your partner feels?

In relationship it is often the small things that create the biggest rift, simply because no one can understand what is really going on underneath.

When Susie came home late from work her partner, Joe, was watching the football on television. The sitting room was messy, Susie was upset and asked Joe if he would tidy up. Joe said it was fine and invited her to come and cuddle up with him on the sofa.  He’d got her a great movie on DVD and a nice bottle of wine. 

Susie sat down but found it impossible to relax; the mess in the room really distracted her. She resented the fact that he didn’t see the mess or understand she liked to come home to a tidy house. Rather than talk the issue through, she complained was too tired to watch the film and went to bed with a comforting cup of tea and some toast. 

Joe felt hurt she'd rejected his idea of a cosy evening and when he came to bed he got upset about the crumbs Suzy had let drop in the bed. He accused Susie of being selfish and a row broke out. 

This is a classic example of how a couple can create distance in their relationship through misunderstanding how the other experiences the world. 

 By the end of the evening both Susie and Joe felt the same way – disregarded, unloved and misunderstood.  

When they came to see me the first thing to do was help them to understand how each of them gathers and processes information. Susie responds to the visual impact of something, whilst Joe responds to how it feels. 

With some coaching Joe understood that the feelings of discomfort the crumbs in the bed gave him where exactly the same feelings that a messy room gave Susie. By helping him reconnect with those feelings he had a greater understanding of Susie’s behaviour. Also Susie recognised that dropping crumbs in the bed had created the same feelings of not being valued in Joe that she had felt about a messy room. 

Once we had worked through this issue Susie and Joe were able to uncover the thing they were really fighting about, the one they had been afraid to voice: the loss of connection between them.  

Learning new skills of communication they were able to talk about these things in an open and honest way, without feeling frightened that things might unravel.  It meant showing vulnerability and being willing to take an emotional risk, but the process gave them both a deeper understanding not only of what had really happened that evening but also of themselves, each other and where they were in their relationship.

5 tips for working through misunderstandings:
  • No Bad Guys. Be clear within yourself first that you are not looking to blame and criticise.  Nothing will work unless you start from the premise that there are no bad guys.  Not even you.
  • Set your intention.   Again, be honest with yourself and be clear about the outcome you are looking for and where you want the conversation to go.  'Feel closer and more united'  'Better connection'  'Clear the bad feeling'.  Choose a good goal and let it act as your emotional 'satnav' it will help steer the communication, even if you get lost along the way.
  • Be open and honest. Withholding information is death to connection in relationships. 'I'm telling you this because I no longer want it to be something that is between us.' is a good way to soften difficult information.  Keep your heart open and be willing to take an emotional risk.
  • Keep it simple.  Remember your intention, if things are going well don't pile a load of other stuff into the conversation, you can easily overload a delicate process.  Keep a timeframe and stick to it.  20-30 minutes is often long enough for things to shift and prevents you losing focus on the goal.
  • Express appreciation.  When you are really upset with someone it can be hard to find something to appreciate, however learning to do so actually changes your brain chemistry.  You start moving from a fight or flight response to an area of the brain that is more emotionally intelligent, giving you a calmer outlook, more communication skills and a better chance of achieving your goal. 
Still need help?  Contact for couples and/or individual training on communication, problem solving and anger management.

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