One of the hardest tasks I have as a counselor working with couples, is to help them realize that what they think their spouse is saying is NOT what their spouse is actually trying to communicate.
Male communications are generally task focused - efficient resolution of issues or achievement of desired goals;
where as female communications are generally pattern focused - outcome experience of a goal, or event.
These two different ways of seeing the same event, left untranslated, can make conflict more painful than it has to be; as illustrated in the following example:
Husband: I didn’t mean it the way you heard it.
Wife: thank you for the apology.
Husband: well, we could have saved a lot of time & pain had you just remembered
that I would never have said something like that.
Wife: so, your blaming me for being hurt? You had no part in it at all?!
When I told you what you said that hurt me, you got mad... I am not sorry that I was hurt!
H: Yes, if you had remembered who I am, or just asked me what I meant, we would not be fighting.
W: who you are right now is someone who doesn't care whether I'm hurting or not... Is that what you want me to remember?
The husband in this case is focused on the efficiency of resolving the problem - “the sooner I am made aware of the problem, the sooner I can fix it.” However, the wife in this case is focused on how the pain felt when it was experienced. Much like a spouse slamming a door on your finger - the first thing most people will think of is how to make the pain stop rather than how silly it was to not move my finger, or why they didn’t notice my finger before closing the door in the first place. The pain was the result of a true accident - not intentional on either person’s part; but the pain demands to be addressed, before embarking on an analysis of the accident.
Path to peace
Both must realize that the first natural response is not the only feelings they have. Just because this husband responded with “how to prevent pain in the future” does not mean he does not care about the wife’s pain in the moment. The fact that he wants to prevent pain means there is some caring; it just means his empathy comes after observation.
Just because this wife is focused on the pain experience does not mean she is not reasonable - the fact that she is trying to have a conversation means she is reasonable. In that moment she is in need of empathy, and reason comes after the pain has subsided, addressed, or at least recognized.
In critical moments, research suggests that both spouses are likely to respond out of reflex rather than reason. A good therapist will work with both to pause and take a breath before responding.
Attempting to defend a reputation and pride at this point may not be worth the damage it causes to the relationship, try empathy first. Giving permission to the other person to be hurt, or angry, by what they heard (which will be different from what was said) will go farther than defensiveness from feeling offended by what your spouse’s words might mean about you.
Focusing on reducing the pain before discussing the misunderstanding. Pausing before responding can be a powerful healing tool. It develops trust in partners, especially those that struggle with anxiety in relationships. For example:
Husband: I am sorry you were hurt by what I said. I understand how you would be hurt by what you heard; and I understand how what I said could be heard that way. The message you heard was not what I intended or meant, but we can talk about that later. Right now, I want you to know that I love you, and I'm sorry you are hurting. What can I do?
Does this mean reputation should be ignored? Absolutely not! Reputation is what gives our words credibility when we say “I did not mean my original statement the way you took it, I’m sorry it came across that way, I don’t ever want to hurt you like that.” Credibility and reputation give the other person confidence that when they ask you what you really meant, that the real meaning will make sense and they can trust that you didn’t make it up after the fact.
The point is not that we will never hurt each other; but that when we do get hurt in an accident or misunderstanding, the pain will be respected and healed - even if it was an accidental slamming my finger in the door.
If this “trust to heal the injury” doesn’t exist in your relationship, come see us, we’d like to help. Contact us here at Spirit Christian Counseling Centers:
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