“Inside the heart of each and every one of us there is a longing to be understood by someone who really cares. When a person is understood, he or she can put up with almost anything in the world.” – Ed Hird, Author, Speaker, Minister
Couples typically come in to my office complaining, “We can’t communicate!” Each describes what their partner is doing wrong, complains about that person’s character flaw, and implores how s/he needs to change. The anger eventually subsides with both refusing to budge; and feeling frustrated, disconnected, helpless and painfully alone.
What is couple conflict really about? The issue is not about who’s right or wrong, compromising or even fighting fair. At the core of most couple conflict an individual desperately needs to know “Are you really there for me? Will you respond to me when I call? Are you emotionally engaged with me?” Dr. Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused therapy calls these ARE Conversations. Behind distress, couples need to know “Will you be Accessible, Responsive and Emotionally Engaged?”
The following steps can help you return to intimacy by working through conflict.
- Make time alone to figure out what the conflict is really about. Look within. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling because of what my partner did or did not do? Do I feel hurt? Shame? Disrespected? Discarded?”
- Have an honest look at your stance. Consider the three words that have saved many relationships. Not “I love you,” but “Maybe I’m wrong”. Are you focusing entirely on what your partner is doing wrong (in your eyes) and have your blinders on when it comes to your own behavior and actions?
- Is it really about being right? Or is it about being heard, understood and valued for who you are and what’s important for you?
- Tell your partner what you need or want from him/her instead of what is wrong. Use the communication skill of an “I Message”. The formula is “I (feel) ______ (hurt, alone, discarded) when _______ (the offense or neglectful act).”
- Listen with an open mind to what your partner is saying. Listen to the meaning behind the actual words s/he is saying. Often, a critical or blaming partner is longing for the closeness you once had, but unfortunately the delivery feels more like a dagger than a plea for connection. And when a partner shuts down and withdraws it’s often a way of protecting the bond, to stop the fighting.
Repairing emotional distress requires an honest look within and the grace of humility. You can bridge the communication gap by talking about the “ARE” questions that are at the heart of every relationship.