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When he doesn’t want to talk about it

You would like to bring something up with your partner, but every time you do, he or she says it makes them anxious and they don't want to talk about it.  This doesn't have to be a stuck place.  It just means taking time to back up.  A conversation about how to have the conversation comes first.  It might sound something like this:

Your Partner:  Look I don't want to talk about it.  It makes me anxious.

You:  I am guessing you believe the conversation is going to go a certain way that will just make things worse between us.  Is that right?

Your Partner:  That's what usually happens.

You:  I am committed to talking about it differently so that we feel closer at the end.  Do you have an idea of what you would like to be different?

Your Partner:  I don't know.  All I hear is how unsatisfied you are and how incompetent I am at giving you what you need.

You:  Yea, those general complaints I give - I can see now, how they would be uncomfortable to hear, and they really don't get us anywhere. And too, I hear you wanting specific requests so as to clearly know my needs. Am I understanding you on this?

Your Partner:  Uh-huh.  I just want you to be nice to me.

You:  Maybe you would also like some reassurance that I am not judging you as incompetent or a failure, but rather to trust that you love me and want the best for me.

Your Partner:  But you do judge me!  And then I judge myself and feel miserable.

You:  Yea, it's true, when I have been upset in the past there were times when instead of expressing my needs and requests directly I found fault with you.  I regret that and that's not how I want to communicate now.  I see that it's really hurt you.

Your Partner:  Why should I believe you would do anything differently now?

You:  I've been reflecting on this and working hard to learn new skills.  I am really wanting to help create mutual respect and responsibility in our conversation.  Would you be willing to take a chance with me and see how it could be different by talking for 10 or 15 minutes about the topic I mentioned?

The important skill being demonstrated in this conversation is empathy and control of reactivity.  In this hypothetical situation you are controlling impulses to defend, justify, or make counter accusations.  You are listening for feelings and needs with every comment your partner makes and making a guess at what you hear.

You are also willing to accept and name your part in making past conversations difficult without having to call out your partner for how he or she contributed to the problem.  This ability to name your mistakes simply without self-criticism and without delving into past situation allows you to stay with the present moment need and move forward in the connection with your partner.  So often I witness couples grabbing at past situations to justify the validity of their current need.  This inevitably leads to quarrel about what actually happened in the past and who was at fault.  Keep your eye on the prize - stay with the present situation and present need.

Lastly you can see that hearing your partner with empathy doesn't mean you give up on your original request to talk about a difficult topic.  Trusting that you will come back to your own need and request allows you the space to hear your partner.

This week begin even slightly challenging conversations with pre-conversations that create a sense of connection through expressing reassurance for your partner and stating your commitment to express your feelings, needs, and requests directly and hear those of your partner.

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Conditions for Reactivity & Centeredness

2 Responses

  1. Jun 25, 2012
    Selene Aitken

    Thanks, I love this and so many of your gems!

    How do you recommend I respond when my partner, or anyone, just shuts down and doesn't say anything?

    Do I make empathic guesses? Do I express my desire to connect?

  2. Jun 26, 2012

    In this situation, I usually offer a couple of empathy guesses and watch the person's body for a response. If they tighten, I express my desire to connect when they are ready and where they can find me. If they relax, I hang out, either in silence or with a couple of more empathy guesses.

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