I’m Not Like Them
I hate those click bait things that promise one weird trick. Mostly because they suggest I need to “flatten my tummy” or “smooth my wrinkles.” Jerks. I won’t click on anyone who insults me first.
But I do have a trick, although I lied, it’s not weird at all. It’s just surprisingly overlooked and it can make a huge difference in your relationships.
Not Feeling Understood?
How often have you found yourself saying the same thing over and over and over and not feeling heard? With your husband, your boyfriend, your sister, anyone? Or how often have you noticed that other people tend to vent incessantly about how others have treated them, but they stay angry?
The ingredient that is often missing for us is this: we focus on what the OTHER person is doing rather than on our own FEELINGS. Hear me out. Yes, I’m a counselor and I talk about feelings. Stay with me. It’s good stuff, I promise. If we can consistently focus on how WE feel rather than on what anyone else is doing, then we can break useless and even destructive communication patterns that poison relationships.
How It Works
Example: Let’s say “Robin” gets a new haircut and “Eric” doesn’t notice. If she’s like many people, Robin might say nothing, or if she says anything, it might be “YOU NEVER notice anything, all you do is watch hockey and play your computer games.” If pressed, she might say “I got a new haircut last week and you never even noticed!”
When Eric hears this, he may feel bad, a little bit, maybe. But probably his main emotions will be defensiveness, annoyance, and the desire to watch more hockey. He will probably not feel much of anything about Robin’s hair. If he’s smart, he will apologize, or if he’s not on his best game, he might defend himself in some way like “I am tired from work, I don’t care about hair.” Uh oh. Obviously Robin will feel placated at best, or even more insulted at worst. That’s why normally she just won’t say anything at all about the hair in the first place.
But what if it went this way: what if Robin actually noticed that, in addition to being mad, she was kind of sad. What if she let herself feel how sad it is to have your husband not see you, not notice you, maybe not think you are worth looking at anymore. That is really a bummer feeling. What if she said to him “Eric, I got a new haircut last week, and I am really hurt and sad because I don’t think you noticed. I’m afraid you don’t see me anymore.”
This would be really putting it out there. This is asking alot of a person. This is being vulnerable, which we as a species really try not to do. (Here is a really interesting Ted Talk about the power of vulnerability if you haven’t seen it).
If Eric hears that she’s hurt, he is likely to feel like a schmuck, to feel very sad for Robin, and to take a look at her hair, notice her sad eyes, and try to make them happy again. And chances are he will recognize that she has feelings that he wants to take care of, now and in the future. They are building connection. They are improving their marriage. And maybe now because he’s hugging her and showing that he cares, she can slowly realize that this man loves her very, very much, and she can remember that although he loves her and is a good person, he really doesn’t care about hair, and never will. All without him having to defend himself at all.
Now instead of seeing her as a nag and himself as a target, he can see her as a person who needs him and recognize that he is important to her. And instead of feeling like a nag with a bad haircut, she can see how important she is to him.
What’s weird about this one weird trick is that it is so rarely used.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.