Many people who have perfectly good hearing are unable to “take in” what their partner says. They might be able to repeat back the words that were said, but very quickly the brain in relationship, translates or attaches meaning to such statements. If you recognize yourself in this, please put away the critic that loves to make you feel bad and if you recognize your partner here, please do the same.
It’s important to recognize “what” you translate your partners words into, then to start getting clear with yourself that you are reacting to that, not necessarily to what your partner actually said. For example, a male partner says “I miss the way you were before we had the kids” and the female partner hears and reacts to “you don’t like who I am now!” Or the female partner says “I’m too tired to have sex tonight” and the male partner hears and reacts to “you don’t want to have sex with me.” Please allow yourself to react however you do, if you recognize yourself in these statements.
In my counselling practice I work with many couples on this issue. It’s important to slow the flow of conversation down enough to see what is happening and to stay present with it. There’s a real pull to be only “half listening” while your partner speaks and “half preparing your response” or reacting to your interpretation of what was said. These types of interactions escalate very quickly and are often shut down out of frustration, anger and deeply hurt feelings.
Dr. Susan Johnson in her work on Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT, talks about primary and secondary emotions. The secondary emotions are reactive and mask the more genuine, vulnerable primary emotions underneath. For example when the female partner above reacts with anger to “I miss the way you were before we had kids” (which translates into “you don’t like who I am since we’ve had kids”), she’s likely feeling out of touch with herself, missing her partner or afraid that her partner doesn’t like her or want her anymore. Yet she expresses anger (often accompanied by tears).
When couples are unable to slow these types of conversation down, talk about what they are really feeling and believe what their partner is “actually” saying, they end up in repeated dialogues that slowly destroy their relationship.
Couples counselling is very helpful in identifying these long standing patterns and in helping partners “stop the damage” and start communicating in more useful ways.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of one of the many “normal” processes of human relationship. If you have any questions about this or other matters please feel free to contact me at: Email