It’s even simple. This relationship advice will help you through your life and make you happy.
You’re so certain you’re correct.
Your hands are clenched, halfway between the traditional Italian sign for “che cazzo” (WTF) and a fist, and you can’t see how they disagree with you.
How can they not understand what you’re going through?
Or maybe you’re not debating at all. Perhaps you’re mired in a personal sorrow that you don’t want to discuss (or don’t know how to discuss yet).
An elderly couple gave me the greatest dating advice I’ve ever received. They were seated at the bar of a restaurant where I used to work. They were sipping light pink martinis while whispering, kissing, and laughing.
Because they were too darn adorable to be genuine, I almost expected a movie team to be lurking around some corner of the building.
We ended up talking about love, relationships, conflicts, and communication since I had just gotten engaged (all the fun stuff). They revealed their secret to me between their congrats and the story of how they met and have been married for 40 years.
“It’s simple: ask your partner what they need from the conversation,” the guy stated in an imprecise recollection. Do they want to speak about it? will they simply want you to listen? Do they need some time? Allow them to ponder and respond. And then you must respect it.”
I recall becoming intoxicated on the joy of my soon-to-be-married happiness. I couldn’t bear the thought of fighting with my now-husband. (Now is the time to laugh.) I’m giggling as I type this.)
Nonetheless, I listened. I made a mental note of it.
Humans are complex, obstinate, and emotionally motivated creatures. Certain things that didn’t annoy us last week may irritate us today—or tomorrow.
I’m no expert, but I’d bet it’s a lot of things. Because life throws a lot of curveballs at us. At various periods.
We’re all going about with our own luggage, but it’s not necessarily the same “bags.” Our pain’s texture changes with time. The triggers alter their appearance.
The me who is fighting now is not the same as the me who was disputing in the past.
Here’s one example:
>> I’m only halfway through listening because I’m planning my response—hone in on semantics, each reply, and attempt to identify the flaw. It’s what I term “verbal chess.” And I always play with the intention of winning.
>> I’m using my voice like a weapon, employing tone and word choice.
>> I’m deliberately retreating, snuffing out the significance of their words—their emotions.
>> I want to be correct. That’s not quite correct; I want to people to understand. (Because if they could only comprehend what I’m feeling/saying, my “rightness” would automatically follow. Right?!) So it can’t be a “all right, Kate.” I want them to fully admit their crime. I want them to resent themselves for not seeing things my way sooner. I’m looking for emotional surrender.
I still fall into these traps now and again, but I’ve realized they’ve developed as a result of my experiences—my previous and current relationships.
Previous partnerships required a bulldozer-style of communication: I couldn’t get through with reasoning or calm, so I used fire. I burned and burned and burned because I felt rejected, unnoticed, and misunderstood. I burned everything, jeopardizing myself and all hope of being heard.
My communication style is still fiery (I think it’s the Italian in me), but it doesn’t aim to smolder people around me.
And I can give you that advise.
It’s constantly in my head, and it’s something I think about to this day. Even in non-argumentative discussions.
Assume our beloved is dissatisfied, unsatisfied, and sad. Perhaps they despise their work or are unable to identify the source of their sadness. Our first impulse may be to make suggestions—to attempt to repair things or to highlight the “bright side.”
What if they aren’t prepared to hear it? But what if we said, “But you have X.” You’re fantastic at Y. It’ll be OK since Z” isn’t actually what they need? There doesn’t have to be a solution all of the time. Sometimes just “getting it out”—putting the responsibilities on the table—is sufficient. Having a sounding board may sometimes help to alleviate discomfort. Or maybe they want to express themselves and just speak without it seeming like a chess game.
In any case, when we ask our partners what they need from the discussion, we give it a fighting shot (pun intended). We’re either tuning in to the same frequency or realizing that, for the time being, we can’t—we need time. And there are instances when we don’t even know what we want from the discussion. However, simply the act of asking the question has proved to be beneficial.
I’m sure we all want to be “correct,” but the most important thing is to know that we saw, supported, and heard—that they care enough to do the work of the relationship with us. Knowing they’re on our side in this crazy game we call life.