[Couple Communication] What Really Happened?


premarital 4

Yoga was one of my daily routines. I have been practicing yoga for a few years now but started to get serious after a yoga retreat last year. Going to the yoga class was difficult because of my schedule. So, I often do “YouTube Yoga,” watching yoga at home.

One of the mornings this week, as I was practicing yoga, I paid more attention to the instruction from the teacher while watching my posture in the mirror. Suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t holding the pose as the way the instructor was saying.

It made me realize this: what I do is not what I think what I did in my head. That is, what I did and what I think I did are two different things.

This realization immediately thinks about the communication in the couple’s relationship. How many times we did or said what we think we did or said? How many times what we think we understand is not what we actually heard?

One of the familiar scenes in my couple’s therapy session is like this:

The couple tried to tell me something happened over the week.
Partner A said something and Partner B looked at me and said: “It’s not true. This is how it happened.
As I indicated to let Partner A finished his/her side of the story, Partner B looked angry at me and Partner A.
As soon Partner A finished, Partner B looked at the Partner A and said: “I can’t believe you just said that. That’s so not what happened.” Then, Partner B looked me and started to tell me his/her side of the story.
Now, the role reversed. Partner A said to me: “It’s so not true. I can’t believe you just said that.
Then, the fight escalated, and they started to argue about what “really happened. As soon as one finished the sentence, the other one jumped into a rebuttal.
Then, next, I know, they are talking at each other at the same time. It often takes me a few tries to stop them from listening to me.

I said: “Do you hear what other people are trying to tell you? Or, in the back of your head, you are trying to find words to defend yourself and waiting for the other person to finish to get your words in?

Both of them are pretty upset at me right now. It depends on the situation and the client’s self-soothing skills, some of the couples will start to fight again as one of them began to engage me to be his/her side. At times, they will be able to acknowledge that they are not listening to the other person because they are too busy to find ways to defend oneself in the back of their mind.

So, if you are ever in a fight with your partner, ask yourself this question: how do you know what you heard is actually what the other person is trying to tell you? Or, you just think that what you heard and what the other person said were the same thing?

Many people asked me this question: “How can I get my __________ (significant other) to listen to me?” As I gathered my stuff on the floor after my yoga practice, I can’t help but think about the answer to that question is: “yes, exactly, your significant other is also asking the same thing. How can he/she get you to listen to him/her?

I often share this with the couples in my office about what is “really happened.” There are three realities in the couple’s relationship, Partner A’s reality, Partner B’s reality, and what really happened that no one ever knows unless you have a video camera recording everything every second. A therapist’s job is not to decide what really happens or whose reality is “more right.” A therapist’s job is to help you understand each other’s reality. Then, the three of us can decide what you, as a couple, want to do with the new information.

The secret of the conflict resolution is not about how and what you say but what you hear and understand. Next time, when you find yourself in the conflict with your significant other, instead of trying to get your point across, try these three steps:

Step 1: Take a few deep breathes to slow your heart rate down so that you can truly be present with your partner. Ask yourself: “What did he/she want me to understand?”
Step 2: Repeat what you hear to your partner until he/she agreed with your information is accurate. This might take a few tries. You can’t move on to the next step until you hear your partner say: “Yes, that’s what I meant!” Please pay attention to your inner rebuttal when you are listening to your partner explain his/her reality.
Step 3: Stop here and ask yourself: what did this information mean to you? How did this information make you feel? Please try to pause for a moment to gather your thoughts before you respond.
Step 4: Now, pat yourself on the back for being a good listener. Good job! It’s your turn to express your response.

In responding to your partner, try to express your side of the story with “I Statement.“I feel ________ (emotions) when I ______ (saw, heard, experienced etc.) _______ (the situation). Now I understand what you meant is ____________. It made me feel _______ (emotions). I would like to explain my experience to you about this situation. Please hold the space for me to explain.”

For example, using my yoga practice as an example. “I feel surprised when I heard the teacher said to check the alignment of my knee and heel. I was shocked to see the alignment was off when I thought that I was doing it right. Now that I understand what the teacher meant, it made me feel surprised to see that.”

I hope this process makes sense to you. In the therapy sessions, I can adjust the details for each couple individually, but not on the internet! I would love to hear from you whether it works or not. If, not what’s not working?

Extended reading:
Soothe yourself


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