Have you ever been talking about a fight and gotten so tired of the conversation going in circles that you’d rather just go back to all-out brawling?! Most couples have. Following very common conflicts, it’s natural to want to prove your point, express yourself, and – as ALL of the couples who work with us say – feel HEARD!!! Why? Because we need that to move on. We need to feel empathy and understanding in order to solve problems. I’m willing to bet that if you have attempted problem-solving with your partner without feeling any empathy from them, it’s come to a very quick halt.
One of the main issues we see in therapy is that the listening partner will have a difficult time expressing empathy because they are still responding to their partner’s anger. Which is where today’s relationship 101 stems from – using your anger (as the speaking partner) to determine what’s going on underneath it.
The reason your partner can’t hear you might be because you are expressing only this anger and not the emotions that are hidden. He or she can’t disarm themselves enough to hear you and to empathize with you (because your tone, words and non verbals are scaring them). If that’s the case – self soothe and come back to the table later. But, your goal should be to learn how to access your more hidden emotions so that your partner can stay calm enough to understand you. Expressing your feelings or viewpoint to your partner will always yield more empathy. Anger might be felt the most in the moment, but sometimes it is covering up your vulnerability (which hit you FIRST!). More vulnerable word ideas….neglected, fearful, rejected, sad, lonely.
So next time, maybe try saying “I’m feeling a little neglected since we haven’t followed through on date night” instead of raising your voice with a “You never follow through on what I need.” (Or something similar). See if it shifts the interaction you have with your partner. It might be step 1 of a safer, more enjoyable, more stable relationship!