Speak about yourself, Ask about your partner, Reap the benefits.

The most frequent sign of poor communication habits I hear is something like, “My wife wants us to talk about…” Or, “I feel that my husband ignores me…”

The first phrase is a comment about the partner, using an assumption, and a cross-over: us. The speaker misses opportunities here to invite his wife to share with him, to express herself, and to support each other as individuals in partnership. Instead, he could ask, “What would you like us to discuss today?” Or, “What’s on your mind today?”

The second phrase sneaks in because it sounds like it’s a feeling, but it actually is a shrouded statement about the other. This partner could be more effective with a statement like, “I feel misunderstood when my husband…” Or, “When you don’t let me explain myself, I feel dismissed and unimportant.” Better yet, “When you’re patient as I express my frustration, I feel validated and important.”

So often, people make statements about other people – how they feel, how they behave, the impact this has on oneself. It is less often that I hear people make a statement about their own feelings and then ask their partner something like, “I felt overwhelmed in that conversation. What was your perception of that situation?” Or, “How did you feel when that happened? When he acts that way, I get agitated” “How would you have done that differently?” “How can I help you avoid that in the future?”

It may be easier, it may feel like second nature, it may be ingrained in us to state our perceptions and emotions as fact. This really just backfires on us. Our partners feel misheard, misunderstood, and overwhelmed when we do this. We’re better served, even when we ‘know’ how they feel, to ask them. Let them share their version of events, their perceptions, their emotions and reactions. We can learn so much. And then, we can support them, let them know we’ve heard, and comfort them by just recognizing their experience.