One of the things couples often talk about is wanting to be understood. Sometimes a person will say, “You just don’t understand!“, or even, “You should know how I feel about this“. It doesn’t really matter what the issue is. In fact, it is about wanting to be known and understood.
If you want to be better understood, here are a few common pitfalls:
- I don’t want to talk about what’s going on for me or what I need.
Clear communication is essential to being understood. It is folly to assume your partner can read your mind! While s/he may have a good grasp of your thinking based on past experinece, it is still your responsiblity to make your needs clear by expressing them directly and openly. We avoid asking for what we want because we feel vulnerable to rejection, but we sabotage ourselves when we refuse to speak up in the first place.
- I assume that if my partner understands me, s/he will do what I want.
There will be times when, even though yor parnter understands you, they choose not to do what you want. This can feel very frustrating, and it is tempting to hold onto the idea that “they just don’t understand”. It really depends on not only your needs, but also theirs. The best solutions to conflicts are “win-wins” where everyone gets at least some of what they want. The point is that clear communication and accurate understanding do not necessarily equal a change in behavior.
- It is possible for others to fully understand me if I communicate well.
The third assumption looks at the whole foundation of communication and relationship. While you can get to know your loved ones very well, you can never fully grasp another’s experience, because you are not that person and haven’t experienced it through their being. This is true even if you were in the same situation. The best we can do is to imagine what it would be like if you had your partner’s past, their personality, and were in the situation described. We do the best we can in this regard but it is not perfect. So, there is always some connection, and some mystery in our understanding of each other. Letting go of this assumption can have a profound impact on your communicating and relating.
Here’s how to start practicing and achieving better understanding:
1. Notice thoughts of wanting to be understood or feeling misunderstood, or the feelings that might go along with them, such as frustration or disappointment.
2. Recognize hesitation about speaking up as a barrier to getting what you want. Remind yourself this is something you have control over.
3. Express what you want as clearly and directly as possible.
4. Ask your partner to repeat back what they heard you say as a way of checking their understanding.
5. Let go of expecting them to think or feel the same way that you do. Remind yourself that you are different and would naturally think and feel differently.
6. Look for a win-win solution so that everyone comes out ahead.
Be open to what you don’t understand and aware of the incredible array of human motivation and behavior. We all have an amazing ability to be any way we choose at anytime – it is the unlimited potential of being human.