One of the key components of a healthy relationship is having your partner hear and validate your thoughts and feelings. That’s why it’s so frustrating when your partner doesn’t acknowledge your feelings. It feels dismissive and diminishing, like your emotions don’t matter or are just not important to them.
Good communication between partners requires each to acknowledge the other’s feelings regardless of whether they agree with them or not. This involves active listening and deep empathy, two skills which don’t come naturally to everyone. Let’s explore how to hone these important communication skills and build a stronger relationship.
Negative Communication Pattern
Many couples fall into a negative communication pattern where they’re talking (or yelling) at each other instead of talking with each other. If someone is feeling unacknowledged, they might repeat themselves, speak louder, or be more forceful which unfortunately usually leads their partner to become defensive and therefore reinforces negative patterns.
When stuck in a negative communication rut, most people are quick to criticize their partner and reluctant to offer positive reinforcement. The carrot usually works better than the stick, even you’re frustrated and feel you can hardly speak with your spouse without getting angry. The best way to reverse a negative pattern is to replace it with a more positive one.
You Can Change Your Partner, But Start With Yourself
The easiest way to change someone else is to lead by example. You might have heard the saying, “You can only change yourself,” but this is nonsense. If you could only change yourself then what do therapists do all day? The truth is you can change your partner, but the best way to do so is by starting with yourself. When you are communicating what you want in the relationship, focus on your behaviors and emotional needs. Focusing on the other person is likely to cause defensiveness since it will sound blaming and judgmental.
Identify The Issue (Not The Details)
When couples get caught up in arguing and blaming, they tend to focus on the details, or symptoms, of the issue rather than discussing the issue itself. When you get caught up in the little things, there’s not much room left for the bigger, more important underlying problem that needs to be addressed. If the big picture issue you’re looking to address is a desire to have more sex, don’t spend precious time and energy arguing about meaningless details like exactly when you last had sex, how often you used to have sex or why your friends seem to have more active sex lives. None of that is actually helpful.
If the issue is that you want more intimacy in your relationship, address what can be done towards that need. More date nights? Help with housework? Stress relief? Focus on the here and now and find a path forward without getting bogged down by irrelevant details.
Focus On Emotions, Not Solutions
Sometimes a “fix-it” mentality can distract us from the emotions that someone is trying to express. We probably all know someone who jumps in with a solution to a problem instead of paying attention to the feelings associated with the problem. It can be frustrating if you try to share your feelings with your spouse but they try to find some practical solution instead of just hearing you out and being empathetic. A “fix-it” mentality is tough to change but you can begin by making your partner aware of their tendency toward solving problems instead of focusing on feelings.
Say you come home with a headache, upset about accidentally deleting an important document and how long it took to rewrite it from scratch. Your spouse starts to lecture you on the importance of saving documents or the best backup solutions. This is not helpful and misses the point. Help your partner take a different approach. Redefine the problem by focusing on emotion. Gently point out that you’re frustrated and exhausted by the experience and aren’t looking to fix the problem. Explain what would be most helpful is for your spouse to recognize just how tired and frustrated you are; to hear you out and empathize, not to discuss the mechanics of file storage. Your spouse likely means well and is trying to help. But if their approach isn’t working for you, it’s important to communicate your needs clearly and lovingly.
Ask For What You Need
More often than not, one partner doesn’t acknowledge the other’s feelings due to distraction rather than malice. Modern busy lives place a lot of demands on our mental and emotional capacity, and it’s all too easy to become less than attentive or attuned to our partner. If your spouse is missing your emotional cues, you’ll need to speak up and ask for what you need. This may be tough at first, but it will get easier with practice. Help your partner bring their attention back to you and gently guide them through the process. Here’s an example which illustrate this point:
“When I curl up on the couch after an exhausting day at the office and you walk by without asking how I’m doing, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me. I’m not just resting or being lazy, I’m really tired and could use little care. If you catch me exhausted, could you maybe sit with me for a few minutes or massage my shoulders? Even a couple minutes with you will make me feel better while also helping me feel like we are a team together in life.”
Acknowledging a partner’s feelings requires being perceptive and empathetic, not to mention being a good listener. Some people need a little extra push in this department. It’s a skill like any other. It takes a bit of time to develop and practice before it becomes second nature. Good communication skills are crucial in any relationship. If you think you could benefit from some professional support, get in touch by clicking the button below.