Ever feel that you're screaming into the wind?
No matter how loud you shout, your partner can't seem to hear you.
Your voice gets louder and louder, but the words don't reach them.
Even when you become anxious or critical, you barely get a flap of recognition.
You're beginning to wonder if your partner speaks the same language. How is it they never understand?
It wasn’t always this bad, but since your move abroad you’re feeling like there’s more distance between you. You're becoming cold and aloof, and maybe even losing your desire for intimacy and sex.
And what's worse?
You've no idea why your words don't reach them.
It could be that you've learnt to communicate in a way that pushes your partner away.
You think you're helping, but you're not.
It's time for a different approach:
An approach where you'll tune into your partner's language, where they'll hear your pain and see your perspective – and together, you'll heal.
Helping your partner see your perspective is crucial if you want them to understand and support you.
When you both understand each other's perspectives, your relationship will thrive.
Here are 4 enterprising steps to make your partner see your perspective.
1. Talk About Yourself
When talking to your partner, try to use statements with "I" in them. For example:
· "I feel…."
· "As I remember it…."
· "I heard you say…."
When you use the word "I", you take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings.
Using the word "you" makes your partner feel blamed. And feeling blamed will cause them to either shut down or get defensive. It will end the chance of any constructive dialogue.
How do you think these sentences make them feel:
· "You didn't listen to me."
· "You came home in a mood."
· "You were arguing with the kids."
When you use the word "you", it feels like you're pointing your finger.
Remember, there are always two perspectives in a relationship, and they're both right. You're not trying to find the truth. You can only speak from your experience: What you remember hearing, seeing. How you felt.
That's why using "I" is so important.
Here's an example from my own life.
Not too long ago, my wife, Annie, was away on a business trip. I'd called a few times, but she didn't answer or call back - a bad habit that I've always disliked.
When we did speak, I said:
"You're so selfish. You never answer your phone when I call, and you ignore my messages!"
She instantly became defensive. "No, I'm not! I'm just busy during the day. I don't want to lose my job. Sometimes our discussions put me in a bad mood."
Then I remembered what I’d learnt.
I paused and tried the discussion again. I focused on "I" statements, and my tone changed.
"I wish you had answered me when I called earlier," I said. "I felt like you didn't think our relationship was important. I began to feel anger and fear about our future together."
This softer approach allowed Annie to relate to me.
"Ok, I can see where you're coming from; I'll try to make more effort to call you, even if it's only briefly..."
By using an "I" statement, you take ownership of how you feel. You avoid making your partner feel blamed, and you soften your tone. All this makes what you say easier for the other person to hear.
2. Leave the Kitchen Sink Alone
Have you heard the idiom, "everything but the kitchen sink"?
It means " everything you can think of, '' or a "huge number of things, whether needed or not."
When used in a relationship, "kitchen sinking" means bringing many other issues into a conversation.
It's an aggressive strategy.
It involves throwing all kinds of events or misdeeds at someone all at once.
Has this happened to you?
You're talking to your partner about them not raising their voice with you, and they remind you of the time you bad-mouthed them in front of your mutual friends – 10 years ago.
Kitchen sinking is a destructive way to communicate because:
- It focuses on the past over which nobody has control.
- It overwhelms the person on the receiving end, and the present issue almost always gets lost.
- It destroys trust between people.
When a person kitchen sinks, it's like they've been noting down every mistake you've made, every complaint they’ve against you.
When an argument starts, they bring out this list and use it.
If you or your partner find yourself committing this crime, try to take a 20-minute time-out.
Use the time to calm down and think positive thoughts about your partner.
When you return, focus on one issue. Try to avoid the past.
Even if you don't kitchen sink, when discussing differences with your partner, don't lay out more than one relationship problem at once.
You may feel that you should take advantage of this opportunity since you have your partner's undivided attention.
But the more problems you try to air, the less likely solving them becomes.
Instead, focus on one issue.
Talk honestly about your feelings and beliefs about your position on this issue.
Do not argue for or try to persuade your partner of your point of view; explain how you see things.
Stick with this issue until it's resolved to both you and your partner's satisfaction. Then move on to the next.
3. Recognize You're Emotionally Damaged
No matter how good your upbringing or how comforting and caring your parents were, you're bound to have some hangovers from childhood.
Childhood causes emotional damage to all of us because humans have a long and intimate growth period.
A foal can stand up 30 minutes after it's born, whereas you took your first steps after about a year.
As a child, you spent 25,000 hours with other imperfect humans.
You were emotionally vulnerable and thin-skinned.
You relied on your parents to guide you.
Back then, you were wholly dependent on your parents. Somehow, you - an emotional and vulnerable child - had to make sense of their rules, moods and actions.
Over time you developed areas where you're super-sensitive.
A client I worked with felt threatened when he met males who seemed to have a personality like his father. His father hadn't done anything wrong. Still, my client got triggered in these situations.
If you're not careful, it's these tender areas that get triggered in conflicts between you and your partner.
A discussion about home cleanliness could trigger your partner's desire to avoid the chaos in their childhood home. Or a debate around money could fire their need for security after growing up in poverty.
At times you may find your partner's holdovers from childhood annoying, but it's unrealistic to expect them to be able to alter these.
Instead, you can prevent conflict from worsening by learning about their triggers and being careful around them.
Knowing your partner's triggers can help you keep a discussion on track. It can help you understand them when their response seems out of proportion. And it can help you back off if they seem upset.
4. Put Yourself at Your Partner's Mercy
Brené Brown is a researcher and writer who specialises in vulnerability. She describes vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." It's that insecure feeling you get when you step out of your comfort zone or do something that forces you to loosen control.
Imagine joining a drama club. You arrive full of excitement, thinking about the wild reception you'll get at your first performance. But as you enter the door, you realise everyone has so much more experience than you.
You begin to feel strange. Your heart rate speeds up, your palms grow sweaty, and you think, "Why in the world did I ever think I could do this?"
This is vulnerability.
According to Brené:
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn't feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive."
She believes vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together.
But being vulnerable isn't easy.
It involves exposing yourself to risk.
When you join a drama class, you're taking the chance that you'll embarrass yourself, or the class will reject you.
In a relationship, you must reveal yourself to your partner and risk them hurting you.
It's much easier to shy away from expressing how you feel than to be vulnerable.
Michelle is a former client of mine. Her partner always arrived late.
Her initial response was to blame and yell, "You don't care about me. Will you ever grow up!"
But when she made herself vulnerable, she said:
"I feel scared and lonely when you don't arrive on time. It reminds me of the times I was at home alone, wondering when my parents would return. I fear that I'm not good enough for you to be on time. Is there a way you could try to help me out?"
Can you see how much courage the second approach took?
To be more vulnerable with your partner, take small steps, share a little of what you're thinking and feeling.
Don't worry about being perfect. No one is perfect, and the more you hold yourself to an impossible ideal, the more quickly you'll give up.
Going to that new drama class may feel uncomfortable, but you're also opening yourself up to the opportunity to make new friends and learn new skills.
Sharing your fears with your partner may be painful, but you're also opening yourself up to a new opportunity. You're allowing them to see you for who you are.
Share Your World
You're struggling to get your partner to see your perspective.
At times it feels like you're yelling into a desert, your words absorbed by plains of sand.
You're frustrated and helpless.
It’s only got worse since you’ve moved abroad. This is normal as it’s a stressful time.
Look at each of the points in this post. Is there something from each one that you can take away?
Can you start sentences with "I", taking ownership for your feelings, and avoid sounding like you're blaming?
Can you be vulnerable and share some of your fears and anxieties?
Can you learn about your partner's childhood holdovers and try to avoid their triggers?
And can you try to focus on only one topic at once, patiently staying with it until it's resolved?
If you start to put in place the ideas in the post, they'll undoubtedly make a difference.
Your partner will be more likely to listen to you and hear what you have to say.
They'll finally get where you're coming from, and together you can start to heal.
If you both understand each other's perspectives, your relationship will thrive.
You’ll have a memorable time overseas.