How can I get my husband to listen to me?
Several days ago I saw a couple in a coaching session. The woman said that every time she wanted to discuss something about their relationship her partner would go into some kind of avoidance behavior. She wanted to know what she could do so that this would not happen. I said, “Well, why don’t we ask him?”
The man said, “Well, she always wants to talk about ‘our problems.’ I don’t. I just want to relax and enjoy being together. When she brings up ‘our problems’ I’m thinking, “OK. Here it comes. I’ve done something wrong again! Of course, I’m not interested in this conversation!”
The woman turned to me and said, “This is what I mean. If I just talk about what it bothering me, I know he’s going to have this reaction! But if I don’t talk, I just get bottled up inside and feel tense all the time! I think that I can’t tell my partner what is on my mind! What kind of relationship is that? It sucks!”
I said, “Why don’t you try empathy?” So she tried.
She said, with tightness in her face and tension in her voice, “Are you feeling horrible and in pain when you think I’m going to bring something up about our relationship?”
I stopped her. “Wait a second. This is supposed to be about him, not about you. When you give empathy to someone you are guessing what he is feeling and what he is needing. Don’t confuse the issue by showing him what you are feeling and wanting.”
The man said, “Yes! When you said it like that, I’m feeling on guard and scared!”
“See if you can ask this question without injecting your own fears and concerns into it. Your job is to come from genuine curiosity. Imagine you are going for a walk in the forest. It’s morning. The air is fresh and and clear and you are on the lookout for flowers that are just now coming into bloom! You want to be awake for this moment! See what is out there right now! It’s amazing what happens when you take a look and stop imagining the worst! Are you willing?”
She said, “Yes.” She took a breath and then said with genuine curiosity, “Do you get upset when I let you know I want to talk about our relationship?”
The man said, “Now I’m thinking you actually care about me. I feel really open and I want to hear what you want to say.”