You already know the problem: He doesn’t listen. He may look like he’s listening, but he can’t be. The things he does and says indicate otherwise. That’s that problem, and he needs to fix it if he wants this thing to work.
Sound familiar? It’s natural to take your own truth as gospel, but that sort of rigid thinking just doesn’t work in relationships. (Yes, I have tried.) It’s perfectly fine if you’re helping your kids with their multiplication tables –9×9 is 81 and there’s no getting around that– but relationship truth is a whole different breed.
When you’re dealing with emotions, personal histories and relationship legacies, all that once was deep black and stark white becomes a murky shade of gray. Enter confusion and mayhem.
Well, not necessarily. There is a way to navigate the gray, shadowy waters of relationship communication without completely (or even nearly) drowning. It just takes understanding and practice.
Know that reality, as fixed and finite as it may seem, is all about perception. In your mind, what you think is going on is really what’s going on. It doesn’t matter if no one else agrees. In your mind, it’s real. That makes it real in your world. Let’s consider an example. Imagine if, out of the blue, you were suddenly attacked by ferocious, flesh-eating ants. You run to your mate and yell, “Help, get them off!” but he looks at you like you’re crazy.
“Get what off?” he asks, confused. “I see you’re in a silly mood today.” He gives you a quick smile and goes off about his business, leaving you and the ants to battle for your life. Would the fact that he couldn’t see the ants make them any less real? Would it make you any less scared? Of course not.
That is the basis of understanding the tricky truth of relationships. You don’t have to see his point, but you do have to realize that it is real to him and, therefore, valid. What he’s saying may be the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard. It may sound like a bunch of nonsense, but you have to respect it as his truth, his experience.
And to bring balance to the system, he must do the same for you. It doesn’t matter if he thinks you’re being dramatic, overly emotional, too sensitive, or any of the other common dispositions women are accused of having. It only matters that he gives you a safe and secure space to express your perception.
Much of the “fight” in couples’ communication comes from the insistence of each party that he/she is right and the other is absolutely, unequivocally wrong (and a stupid jerk face). Once you understand that there is no definite right or wrong and that you both have the right to feel however it is you’re feeling, things begin to change.
If only understanding were enough. It takes practice to break the habit of declaring yourself the arbiter of truth. Despite your new understanding, you will want to go back to your black and white view of things. That’s a promise and a guarantee. We are hard-wired to want to stick to what is familiar and comfortable, so this necessary change won’t come easily.
When in an argument, keep the focus of your statements on you. Talk about how you feel and what you think, even if its regarding how he feels and what he thinks. Statements like, “You don’t think I’m smart enough to a make an important decision,” make assumptions about his thinking. You are not in his head. You can’t say what he thinks. But what you can say, with absolute certainty, is what you think he thinks and how your interpretation of his thoughts makes you feel.
So, what would that look like? Let’s start with an example of what it would not look like:
“You like to start fights with me. That’s why you act like this. You know it gets under my skin. I can’t stand you or your mind games!”
This is a perfect way to rev up an argument. It attempts to force him to take ownership of statements he may not want to make.
Here’s another way it could go:
“I feel like you start fights with me on purpose, just to get under my skin. Is that true?”
This statement doesn’t force him to own anything. It only explains your interpretation of his behavior and then gives him a chance to clear up any confusion. Both statements explain how you feel, but the latter doesn’t back him into a corner. It also doesn’t add fuel to the fire.