By BARBARA MARTIN
How do I get my spouse to listen to me?
Imagine this scenario:
Joe: I had a horrible meeting with my boss today. He continues to challenge my knowledge of my job and has actually said he doubts my competence in the work I do.
Linda: I think this is just another example of you being paranoid and overreacting. I think your boss seems reasonable more times than not. Maybe you just aren’t being sensitive to his concerns.
Joe: I think he is just out to get me.
Linda: See, that is just your paranoia coming out yet again. You have got to control that.
Joe: Just forget it
Now imagine this scenario:
Joe: I had another terrible meeting with my boss today. He continues to challenge my knowledge of my job and said he doubts my competence in the work I do.
Linda: I can’t believe your boss. He seems to have it out for you. What did you say to him?
Joe: I told him it felt like he was out to get me, and that it wasn’t going to happen.
Linda: I am so sorry he is putting you through this.
Joe: I guess at this point I just need to ignore him.
Linda: I bet others feel this way about him too.
Joe: If this continues, at some point he is going to give me an ulcer.
Linda: I can tell this is really stressing you out, and I so understand why.
At the end of most days, there is this moment of connection that is available to most couples. What you do with this moment matters. Often these conversations don’t have the outcome either spouse desires. Instead of the discussion being an opportunity to de-stress at the end of the day, it actually increases stress levels because one spouse feels frustrated that he/she hasn’t been heard but instead criticized.
One of the key components in a healthy marriage is staying connected to each other’s worlds. This is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.
This grows when you know your spouse is having a bad day at work and you take time out of your schedule to leave words of encouragement on his voicemail. It grows when your wife has had an argument with one of the children, and you come alongside and listen to her frustration rather than telling her a different way she could have handled it.
In each of these instances, the husband and wife are turning toward each other rather than away. When you turn toward your spouse, there is then a basis of connection and romance. You are building up goodwill toward each other and often are then able to maintain a positive sense of each other and your marriage even in times of stress.
Many people think that the secret to connecting with their spouse is a candlelit dinner or a vacation. The real secret to connection is the ability to turn toward each other in little ways every day. It is important for spouses to remember how crucial these mundane moments are to the marriage’s stability and ongoing sense of romance. For many, simply realizing that they shouldn’t take their everyday interactions for granted makes an enormous difference in their relationship.
If you look back at the conversation between Joe and Linda, you will notice in the first conversation that Linda was being critical of Joe, and she seems to side with Joe’s boss. In the second conversation, Linda is showing genuine interest and expressing affection for Joe in validating his emotions. I think you will agree that Joe will feel free coming back to Linda another day for a conversation about his boss if she engages in the second way. Why is this?
◼ She doesn’t give unsolicited advice. Showing understanding must precede advice. Her goal was to offer support, not to solve Joe’s problem.
◼ She showed interest.
◼ She communicated understanding. Linda let Joe know that she understood why he felt the way he did.
◼ She expressed affection.
◼ She validated his emotions. Linda let Joe know that his feelings made sense to her.
For ongoing communication to occur, your spouse needs to feel understood, respected and loved. This opens the door for ongoing communication in most marriages.
Barbara Martin, LPC, LMFT, clinical coordinator of the Counseling Center at Reformed Theological Seminary, has her own private practice at RTS.