Emily: It really is.
Kris: Do you feel understood?
Emily: I do.
Kris: Is there more to this issue? [Understanding: Making sure the issue is completely explained.]
Emily: There is. I know you work hard at home and have to manage a lot. You have Jacob and keep the house in order. [Respecting Kris’s perspective.] I also need you to appreciate what I do for the family. I want to feel respected for the work that I am doing. [Stating positive needs.]
Kris: I guess I haven’t acknowledged your hard work in a while, huh? [Non-defensive listening.] It makes sense to me that you want to be respected and acknowledged by me for the work that you do. You’re a high-level, high-achieving executive.
Emily: Yes! I really value your respect and… what’s it called?… Oh! Admiration. That makes me feel loved.
Kris: I totally understand that. I get why not feeling respected and appreciated would make you not feel loved. That sucks you’ve been feeling that way. I’m sorry. [Empathy].
Emily: Thank you for saying that. That’s all I have for now. What do you need?
Kris now becomes the speaker and Emily the listener.
Kris: You’re never home and rarely spend time with Jacob and me. [He is using “you” statements that are accusatory. Not a good start.]
Emily: That’s not true. When I am home, I spend my time around Jacob and you. [Defensiveness. This blocks her from understanding Kris.]
Kris: You’re only home for an hour a day. Then you come home and go to bed. [More attacking “you” statements.]
Emily: Can we take a break right now? I’m feeling under attack. I’m having a hard time listening and I’m not hearing what you’re feeling in this. [Emily is feeling flooded so she asks for a break to try to get their conversation back on track.]
Kris: Yeah. Maybe a break is best. I am saying a lot of “you” statements and I know I shouldn’t be doing that. [Taking responsibility.] Want to pick this up in 20? I’m going to go for a walk.
Emily: That works for me.
Warning: if flooding occurs, pause the conflict discussion and take a break. When emotions are tense, our intellect becomes nonsense and you may say hurtful things that you will regret later.
If you do take a pause, make sure both partners agree on a time to revisit this conflict and work through it together.
When Kris and Emily returned after self-soothing, here is what happened:
Kris: I feel frustrated with myself that I attacked you and made it hard for you to listen. This is a hard topic to talk about. I’m going to focus on what I’ve been feeling.
Emily: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Kris: I feel really angry and neglected. I’m not angry that you’re successful with your practice. I’m actually proud of you. [Expressing an appreciation. Naming that there are two sides to every conflict and both are valid.]
Emily: Aww. Thank you.
Kris: You’re welcome. I guess I’m angry about how little time I get to spend with you. It feels like I don’t have the time to laugh and be goofy with you and so when we are together, I fight with you. I think Kyle was right when he said that I fight with you because I’m fighting for our relationship.
I really need to feel connected to you and spend more time with you. It’s hard when it feels like I have to put that into less than an hour a day and that time has to be shared with Jacob. I need us to carve out more time together just for the two of us.
Emily: I get that. I’m never home. I work from 7 to 4 pm and then after a quick dinner, I go to the gym and attend the other community things I’m a part of. It makes a lot of sense to me why you’re fighting. It sounds like you’re fighting to spend more time with me. Is that right?
Kris: Yeah. I need more time with you. [Transforming criticism into a wish.]
Emily: I understand that. I could use more time with you, too. You and I have talked about how my family only showed me affection when I achieved big things, so I guess that’s why I’m always so busy: because I’m trying to earn your affection.
Kris: Yeah. I can see that. I know it’s one of your “raw spots.” [Tolerance.]
Emily: It is. Let me see if I understand you correctly. So you’re angry and feel neglected because I’m so busy that you never get time to have fun with me like we did the first two years of our marriage, right? [Understanding.]
Kris: That’s it!
Emily: That makes perfect sense to me. I’d like to have more fun with you, too. [Empathy.]
Like all couples, Kris and Emily had a few missteps, but overall they were able to listen and empathize with each other.
Now that they understand where each other is coming from, they are ready to consider solutions to this conflict.
Written By Kyle Benson
You may also like:
- State of the Union Meetings Will Strengthen Your Relationship: Here’s How to Start Yours
- Understanding Must Precede Advice
- Reaching a Compromise: The Second Part of the State of the Union Meeting