Communication – It’s Not Always What We Think It Is!
The following is something a man said in a session regarding his communication with his wife that really captured the essence of the dilemma couples encounter when trying to connect:
“I don’t always communicate in a way that fosters sharing of thoughts and feelings. I have a tendency to not fully listen to you and let you explore your feelings if you are upset or down. I feel like I want to “fix” the problem, when it’s really your problem to fix. I need to allow you to express your feelings, creating a situation that supports you in solving your own problems.”
This client addressed beautifully some of the common issues men experience when relating to their partners.
Common Communication Men Experience In Relationships
He clearly observes that he is quite uncomfortable simply listening to his wife express sadness or disappointment. Standing by and not taking action when a problem is presented (especially by his wife, who he has pledged to defend and protect) is challenging, to say the least! Offering a “fix” or a solution to the cause of her emotional reaction appears to be more comfortable to him than allowing her to express, feel, explore and resolve her own upset. He admits to a key point: A tendency to not fully listen to her. Ask yourself what would prevent someone from not fully listening.
Step Away from the “Fix”
From what we’ve read so far, this man certainly doesn’t appear to lack interest; he doesn’t seem to lack understanding; and he doesn’t show any evidence of not caring. That’s not it! He’s busy working on a “fix”! How can he create a loving, supportive space for her if his mind is in overdrive thinking up solutions to her problem? And, when someone is in distress, wouldn’t a good man take action to rescue or fix what’s causing that distress? Now, this is not unique to men, especially in this day and age. For the purpose of the discussion of this man’s experience, we’re spotlighting this tendency in him and other men. However, the person seeking to fix rather than listen to feelings and step back allowing the other to solve their situation can be the woman in the relationship as well, so it goes both ways.
What is important to note here is that many people, both men and women, feel somewhat uncomfortable simply listening attentively and holding a space for their loved one to express sadness, frustration, anger, hurt, fear, etc. without jumping in and offering a solution.
They may find the energy or charge of the emotion difficult to endure because they hate to see them hurt. They want to end the suffering, and change that negative energy with a suggestion on how to fix it. This impulse to work on the solution does interfere with attending to another person’s communication. And yet, the irony of this is that most people actually value the attention and patient listening provided by another more than that person’s ideas on how to fix their problems!
Ways to Listen and Prevent the “Fix” Mentality
Now for an excellent bit of wisdom that you can practice starting today when in a similar situation to the above:
- 1) When your partner begins relating a difficult situation to you, “view it from the end.” Quickly remember how resourceful they’ve been in the past in resolving problems, and see them happily overcoming this difficulty as well.
- 2) Listen as long as you can, repeat back in your own words briefly what you’re hearing (emphasizing the feelings they’ve expressed), showing clearly that you’ve listened, and ask “where THEY feel they are now” in confronting the situation.
- 3) Most importantly, the key to success in this type of conversation is to not offer any fix or suggestion unless specifically asked! You actually can ask the person if they’d like you to help or if they think you could help, but you have to accept their answer if it’s “no”. If they accept your offer of help, the most effective way to present your solution is to speak from your heart and your own experience as much as possible. It’s important to not criticize, tell them what they “should” do or “should have done”, and to remind them of their strengths in handling distress in the past!
Have you found yourself going to the “fix” in your conversations?
Share with us how you are working on your communication.
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