Understanding is Magic!
Have you ever been happily going about your day and had your partner come and share that they are upset with you; often our mind goes to “they have no reason to feel that way”, and what was them sharing their feelings now become both of you mad at each other over who knows what. This is a common experience and one that highlights how important understanding our partners experience is.
Let’s take a step back and examine what is going on when we don’t look to understand when our partner raises a concern. In this situation, our partner is trying to explain why they were hurt or annoyed by something we did. In most cases, we are not trying to hurt anyone, so our gut reaction is naturally something like “that’s not what happened”, “that’s not what I meant”, or “well I only did that because of ….”. It’s only human. We didn’t mean to hurt someone, so we are surprised and insulted when they say that we did.
However, even though we may not have meant to do something, it doesn’t mean our partner isn’t hurt. By focusing on understanding how they came to feel this way, and not what we think they should be feeling, we can snap ourselves out of the defensive gut reaction described above. It is in this understanding of our partners experience, that a “light bulb moment” can happen and we see something that we didn’t see before. In my personal experience, these “light bulb moments” have helped me understand the hurt that my partner is experiencing and that he is trying his best in the situation.
Understanding is also critical when it comes to problem solving or compromising in conflict. We need the full equation (information) before we can make a well-informed resolution. Jumping in to fix the problem might be tempting, but doing so may further the conflict leaving each party feeling frustrated and invalidated.
Understanding is important for preventing conflict too. A common theme in my couples’ work is the importance of talking with your partner about your day at work and the stress in your world. It can be hard to grasp the idea that talking about stress with your partner can reduce your stress and potentially even conflict in your relationship, but this is the case. When we understand the challenges, triumphs, and feelings in our partners world beyond the relationship, we tend to make more allowances for when things go astray and have an easier time empathizing with their experience.
Understanding allows us to give our partner the benefit of the doubt and give us the opportunity to become closer and more connected through conflict. When we seek to understand, we learn more about our partners values, dreams, aspirations, history and much more. Understanding is the ‘magic’ that keeps a relationship strong and connected in conflict and in the everyday.
The above information was informed by the Gottman Method of Couples Counselling. For more information on healthy relationships and Gottman research the following books are helpful resources:
John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
John Gottman and Julie Schwarz Gottman’s The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection and Joy
Celeste Rodrigues-Forbes MSW, RSW is experienced in the areas of anxiety and trauma, plus many more. For more information on Celeste and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.