Communication is a recurring issue that crops up in couples counselling. There is oftentimes a big discrepancy between what is being said, and what is being heard. Why? Well, because everything we hear is through the lens of our own expectations, biases, experiences, perceptions and even our current moods. Something as simple as tone of voice used can determine the reaction of the listener. It is in our nature to defend when we feel attacked – and when we go into defense mode, we aren’t in a space to hear things the way they are being said, but rather we interpret these things in the here and now, based on how they make us feel. The result? Miscommunication.
Sometimes we hear what we expect to hear, rather than what is being said
We prepare for attack, when perhaps there isn’t any. We prepare to be put down, when maybe no one was even trying to. We feel guilt for wrongdoing, so we project the blame in order to protect ourselves. We assume we know what the other person is talking about, where they’re coming from, and why, without actually giving them the opportunity to express their own thoughts or feelings. We wait in silence for our turn to speak, planning all the while the words we will use to inflict the pain we are feeling; sometimes, we don’t even allow this period of silence, we simply fight to have our own views heard, and raise our voices louder in order to make our own points clearer. We are, generally, beings that are quite aware of our own failings and shortcomings. Some, we wear on our sleeves. Others, we hide so deep down in our hearts that they influence our behavior without us ever being aware of it. However, when any person seems to be saying something, to us, about us, that touches on this sore place, we react without thought. So places where our own self-esteem falls short, usually because of our own insecurities, prime us for criticism, even if none was offered.
So, how to combat this
The first, and the most important thing to do, is to take a step back when things get heated. Take a time out to gain some perspective. When conflict arises between you and your partner, take the focus off of yourself and consider where they are truly coming from: Are they really angry because you came home a bit late? Or did they just have a bad day and really need you home to comfort them? Are they not feeling prioritised in the relationship? Ask questions to make sure you understand the issue at hand and are not simply hearing what you expect to hear. Be prepared to admit when you are wrong, and ask forgiveness. Leave the past in the past! Often a small problem becomes a massive blowup because there is another unresolved issue lingering in the background throwing gasoline on it. One problem at a time. Baby steps.
There will be times when your partner is simply being oversensitive, or is projecting their own bad day or bad mood onto you. It happens. Have grace for each other. Be prepared to be the least when you see your partner needs you, and offer comfort rather than engaging your own defenses.
Of course, if your partner is overreacting, telling them so will calm them down immediately…