Are You Listening, or Interpreting?

Imagine your relationship as a continual journey, across beautiful and yet sometimes treacherous terrain, that you both need to navigate. Imagine that you have the tools you need – one of you has the map and the other holds the compass. You both need to work as a team to get to where you want to go. But to do so, you need to both be very clear with your communication. You need to listen carefully to the directions given by your partner, or you both become lost.

I wrote recently about how we all have different ways of viewing the world, and compared this to us each having different coloured lenses through which we see what we believe is the truth – our own version of reality. (To read the post – click here).

Accepting that your partner has a different coloured lens to yours, and acknowledging that both of your lenses can exist at the same time without one of you being right and the other being wrong, is one challenge. But to actually listen to your partner’s truth without interpreting the meaning for you, based on your own lens can be much more difficult. But it is essential.  As in the example above, if you are using a map and compass, it is important that you pay close attention to what is being said. There is no room for mis-interpretation.

This is an example of a conversation between a couple, who had come for pre-marital relationship coaching:-

Jane*: “I feel like I need a bit of space right now, just to be on my own and not be worried by anything or anyone”.

Emma*: “You’re saying you don’t want me around because I bother you all the time? You’re saying you need a break from us? I don’t want to have to call the wedding off. I knew this would happen”.

Jane’s reaction to this was to become angry and frustrated with Emma, because Emma’s interpretation was actually not what Jane meant at all.

Jane was feeling overwhelmed with planning the wedding, and finding it really difficult to please various members of her own family, many of whom hadn’t been in the same room together for years and were not talking to each other. Jane had just had a particularly difficult conversation with her Mother, who, divorced from her Father, was upset that Jane was inviting him to the wedding. It had caused sleepless nights for Jane and had become a massive source of stress. Jane didn’t want space from Emma. She wanted space for herself, without her family interfering.

Emma, however, had her own struggles to deal with. She had been feeling less  secure about the relationship than usual because now she was so close to marrying the partner of her dreams, she was worried that something might go wrong. She had had a series of difficult relationships in the past with partners who had left her, and a Father who had left her and her Mother when she was young, and was terrified of feeling abandoned again.

So rather than seeing Jane’s comment as simply a reflection of her current mood after a difficult conversation with her Mother, Emma was looking through a lense which was tinted with the core belief “The people that I love, leave me”, and was unconsciously looking for evidence to support that view.

Jane was angry with Emma because even though she had been voicing a problem of her own, Emma’s mis-interpretation had meant that Emma had started to make the issue about herself, and so Jane felt unheard by Emma.

If you notice that you feel triggered by something your partner says, or find yourselves disagreeing with what was said versus what was meant, try asking for clarification instead.

Don’t make assumptions, because as they are filtered by your own perspective and not your partner’s, these are often incorrect.

Make a conscious effort to listen to the words that were used by your partner, and if you find that you are interpreting your own meaning from their message, ask your partner if your interpretation is correct.

Be open to the possibility that you might have mis-interpreted your partner’s message.

You might be surprised.

I would love to know whether you have experienced similar challenges and if so, what has helped you to overcome them, so feel free to comment below.

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*Confidentiality is always protected. Therefore all case examples are fictitious and for illustrative purposes only.

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