How To Be Understood:
Back To Basics
Conflict between couples is both inevitable and ubiquitous. In the middle of the fight du jour churns the desire to be understood. How in our world are we to comprehend what our partner is so desperately trying to convey? How in their world are we to transmit to our partner in a way that we can be understood? A return to the the basics may provide at least a partial, but wholly necessary, list of simple components.
As a listener, and as a talker, the following basic principles can effectively guide you through a potentially disorienting discussion maze, at the end of which, both of you have a better than average chance of actually feeling and being heard and understood.
Let’s start with the obvious–if you wish to be understood, you must talk about yourself.
That means you must not talk about your partner. Simple in concept, very difficult in practice.
Why? Because emotions emerge, and to calm them, which we all possess a strong drive to do, we talk about our partner, and we do that because we are taught that our partner is the cause of our emotional state. Of course, it is not true–our partner does NOT cause our feelings. In fact, we cause our feelings by way of our interpretation processes. In the interest of time and space, I will not elaborate on that in this article.
For now, take a risk to trust me on that one.
Back to being understood. Relay to your partner your experience. Experience is comprised of the following three general ingredients or realms: Thought/beliefs, feelings or emotions, and behavior(s). The most direct route to being understood is to convey to your partner what you think, feel and do.
THINKING + FEELING + DOING = EXPERIENCE
Typically, THINKING precedes FEELING, and we typically behave or DO in accordance with what we THINK and FEEL.
SPEAKER SAYS: “When I heard you tell me you were angry at me, I thought you did not like me any more. Then I felt really angry, hurt and sad, and that’s when I ran out of the room, and slammed the door when I left the house.”
That is a perfect world description of the speakers experience using all three elements of experience-THINKING + FEELING + DOING.
LISTENER RESPONSE: The perfect world response from the listener, using the THINK, FEEL, and DO = EXPERIENCE MODEL, might go as follows:
“Wow, I was so confused when you did all that. I thought that was the end of us, which scared the crap outta me. I appreciate you telling me what was going on for you.”
“If you want to know what I meant when I said I was angry with you, I am happy to tell you. What I meant when I told you I was angry with you is different than what you thought I meant.”
Two things stand out in this interaction: First, each partner spoke only about their self; Second, each spoke about what they were thinking, feeling and doing.
In general, THINKING FEELING & DOING are the three realms in which we conduct most of our interactions. Think of those three as realms of data. The more data we are able to transmit to our partner, the more likely we will be understood.
As listeners, think of the three realms as you hear what is being said to you.
If you don’t hear as much data as you need to understand your partner, get curious and ask questions about that particular realm.
Asking for more data from the THINKING realm will tell you more about why they FEEL
what they feel. Hearing more from both the THINKING and FEELING realms will explain more about why they did what they did, i,e, the DOING realm.
Remember: if you want to understand your partner, hear what they tell you as an experience–And if you want to be understood, describe your experience.
THINKING + FEELING + DOING (BEHAVIOR) = EXPERIENCE.
Wishing you a satisfying relationship,
Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT
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