Your partner’s feelings are not your responsibility
When Mike would listen to Stacey, he felt like it was his responsibility to transform her bad mood into a more positive, optimistic one.
He believed his role as her husband was to make her happy. When she was sad or frustrated, he would offer a way to solve the problem or tell her how he would choose to feel if he were in the same situation.
By dismissing her feelings and telling her she is “blowing things out of proportion,” he made her feel as though she shouldn’t feel what she was feeling and that something was wrong with her.
Over time, she grew to resent him. This pushed them farther apart from each other. They started having less sex, were less playful with one another, and they started feeling like housemates instead of lovers.
What could Mike have done differently?
It goes back to attunement. It always goes back to attunement. Want to fix your relationship? Attune to each other. Want to deepen your bond and have greater intimacy? Attune to each other.
Mike didn’t need to problem solve or fix Stacey. He just needed to understand that she wanted to feel less alone.
For most of us, realizing we just have to understand and not problem solve is a huge relief. And the payoff is huge. When you attune, your partner feels safer with you. And when your partner feels safe, life is good. sex is good. Your relationship becomes playful and joyous.
Over time, Mike learned that no harm would happen to their relationship if he simply listened to Stacey instead of giving advice.
He learned to accept that he cannot control what she feels and that it is not his job to get his wife to cheer up, calm down, or develop a sense of humor. All she needs is for him to listen to her, understand her, and care.
Discover your partner’s uniqueness
The goal of attunement is to understand the unique, amazing, annoying, complex, frustrating, and fascinating person you are in a relationship with.
Any relationship between two people will have issues. No two people will ever agree on everything. And trying to turn your partner into you prevents you from growing yourself.
When you give up trying to change your partner into handling situations or problems like you, you can attune to them as they are and that’s when real intimacy blooms.
When seeking to understand your partner, it’s best to slow down and ask open-ended questions that help you understand them more.
When you think you understand, then reflect back what you heard and ask your partner, “Did I get it right? Am I understanding you correctly?”
They may say yes or go on to explain some piece or aspect that you didn’t fully understand. If they do feel understood, there is one big question I love to have my couples ask that helps open up the deep emotions and the underlying meaning or cause of the conflict:
“Is there more to this?”
Our emotions, especially the feistier ones like anger, are like an iceberg. Underneath the surface of anger is fear, and when you melt away the fear, you uncover a well of sadness. So asking this question opens your partner up to sharing more about what’s buried deep inside.
The State of the Union weekly meeting is a dance. The goal of the listener is to appreciate your partner’s emotions: their meaning and history, and whatever events that may have escalated the conflict or hurt feelings.
When you seek to understand your partner, you gain access to a superpower that can transform the barriers of conflict that arise out of differences into bridges of intimacy.
Next week in the State of the Union Column we will teach you listening tools that will help you to be less defensive so you can understand your partner and work through issues together more effectively.
By Kyle Benson