If we enter the intimate relationships to be accepted as who we are as a person, to feel loved, worthy, and valued, and to see our partners as a whole, and the majority of the mistakes in the relationship are made unintentionally, what do we do when we stuck in the relationship?
The answer is: holding space for each other. The fact is that we are all different. No matter how similar you are as a couple, you still have your differences. No matter which family life cycle stages they are in, communication is the key to resolve the disputes.
Knowing that we all walk into the marriage hoping to be accepted and loved the way we are, knowing that how we respond to our partners is how they assess their value and self-worth in the relationship, and knowing that I don’t do anything intentionally to hurt my partner and my partner is hurt because of the way I think, I experiences, and my values, now what?
How? Here are some takeaway points:
1) Acceptance instead of defense
During the couple’s therapy, I often ask my clients: “what are your purpose of explaining your intention?” Most of the time, the answer is: “that’s not what happened” or “that’s not what I think.” The main purpose is often: “if you understand where I am coming from, you wouldn’t feel this way or think this way.if you understand where I am coming from, you wouldn’t feel this way or think this way.”
Because all of us want to prove we are worthy and want to explain that we do not mean to make our partners feel bad, when the difference arises, the first response is generally try to defend our positions. The problem is, no matter what’s your intention, your partner is feeling or seeing the situation from his/her viewpoints, his/her experiences, or his/her values. Therefore, when two people start to defend one’s intention or perspective, it often becomes a defensive match. As a result, no one is hearing what the other person has to say.
Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try to understand why he/she feels that way and sees that way. When we started to accept the other person’s position, that’s when we begin to recognize “that’s the way you are.”
2) Giving time instead of providing the explanation
During the therapy process, I ask my clients: “are you listening to your partner right now or are you thinking about how to explain to your partner in the back of your head?” Most of the time, the answer is: “I am trying to think about how to explain myself better so that he/she can stop thinking/feeling that way.” So, the reality is: you are not genuinely listening to your partner. Even though you look as if you are listening, you are thinking about your explanation in the back of your head.
As mentioned above, we often expect other people to feel differently if they know our real intention. The dilemma is just because we can conceptualize specific situation doesn’t necessarily mean we can change our feelings. For example, just because I can understand why I can’t eat candies all the time doesn’t change my disappointment.
So, instead of defending your position, give your partner time to finish what he/she has to say. Try to listen from your partner’s perspective and experiences instead of waiting for your timing or thinking about how to defend yourself in the back of your head.
When we give the other person time to listen instead of defending ourselves, that’s when we show our partner: “you are worthy of my time and I am here to understand your distress.”
Gottman’s communication methods often suggest the couples take turns as a listener and speaker to help alleviate the issues of defensiveness. When you are a listener, you hold the space for your partner by identifying your partner’s emotions and experiences, and by avoiding to give advises or solutions. When you are a speaker, you avoid blaming your partner for your problem but expressing your experiences and your needs from your partner.
From the Emotionally-focused Therapy perspective, communication is to establish the attachment. Therefore, if you found yourself in the repeated unsuccessful discussion, you might want to check with yourself with this question: “In what way I can communicate to my partner to make me feel worthy and important?”
“No one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone. That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it.” – Paulo Coelho
I came across this quote accidentally and thought about how appropriate to use it as the ending of this article. I see myself help many couples to learn to communicate with care and love but not to take the situation personally. Why? Many times, the communication escalated into conflict often because the partners are trying to win the perspective as if “if you can win my perspective being right, you will stop feeling the way you are feeling.” When the couples realized that the couple relationship always loses no matter which partner wins, they moved into the idea of “I have to pick my battle.” That is: “I can’t fight every argument and have to let some of the differences go.” The issue with this mentality is you are still fighting about who wins and who loses. However, the idea that no one wins and no one loses in the couple’s relationship communicated to the idea that: I accept who you are and your experiences. Just because your experiences are different from mine, it doesn’t mean we have to engage in whose reality is “righter” or “wronger” than the others. When both partners can release the needs to own or to win the arguments, that’s when they can have the most rewarding conflict resolution experiences in the world.
Extended Readings: Change series
Change your thoughts doesn’t necessarily lead to change your feelings.
Change is Hard (Part I)— Is it possible?
Change is Hard (Part II) — Why?
Change is Hard (Part III)–How Do We Change it?
Change is Harder for the Couples — How Do We Change it?