Or: why won’t my partner listen to me?
Who has ended up in a fight with their partner (sometimes the same fight for years) when simply trying to explain to them why you did (or didn’t) do something?
They’re telling you they were hurt or frustrated or sad or felt alone, and you want to make them feel better by letting them know that it wasn’t about ‘them’.
Why won’t my partner listen to me?
If they could only understand my intentions, they wouldn’t be hurt or sad or angry anymore!
What is missing from these interactions that was present when you first got together?
It’s that magical L word. Listening. With genuine curiosity. And true empathy.
When we first get serious with someone, we spend hours and hours non-judgementally listening to their stories and validate their experiences. We say ‘that must have been awful’ or ‘oh my god I can’t believe that happened, no wonder you felt that way!’ or you simply lay there, holding them, while they tell you about their hurts and fears.
Over time, inevitably, hurts are going to be linked to YOUR behaviour in the relationship. These might be obvious wrongs and require heartfelt apology, atonement, and willingness to change. But usually it’s not so obvious who is ‘right’… because no one is.
Two very different people have very different needs in a relationship and indeed in life. So the thing your person is telling you made them feel hurt/alone/frustrated may not be something you are willing to change. You feel the person is demanding an apology you don’t want to give, or that you can smooth the hurt over by ‘explaining’.
While it’s not your fault if your partner doesn’t accept your explanation (and it’s not their fault either- let’s ditch ‘blaming’ for this conversation), it may well be that what comes ‘after’ the explanation that can make all the difference.
The ‘explaining’, while it does have a place, can go too far and prevent you from giving and your lover receiving from you what they might be seeking: Understanding. Care. Kindness. Acceptance. Empathy with a capital E.
You can still say ‘that must have been awful, I can understand why you’d feel that way’ even if you are the reason someone felt bad. If you can look inside yourself and genuinely believe the choices you made were fine, then you don’t need to defend them.
But you do need to try and understand how your partner feels, just like you did way back when you held them in their painful stories at the beginning.
You can offer care and understanding AFTER an explanation. You can hold someone. You need to be willing to acknowledge that you hurt them, even if you wouldn’t do it differently. And if there is any chance of you deciding you WOULD do it differently, it will come from empathising, not from defending yourself and proving you are right.
You need to be willing to join their world for a moment, understand where they’re coming from, and validate their experience.
Because isn’t that what you want from them when you are explaining?
To be understood?
Which possible place can this go if both people are fighting to be understood but no one is willing to understand?
Instead of asking ‘why won’t my partner listen to me?’ ask yourself ‘Am I truly listening to my partner?’
Listening, Validation, Understanding, and Acceptance are core to most pleasurable, loving and nourishing human relationships. If your need to make someone feel better (and therefore make yourself feel better) overrides your ability to offer these, or you believe by offering these you are ‘apologising’ for something you are not sorry for, then you’re gonna get stuck.
Many couples in counselling are so surprised to experience the affect on everyone when they say (and truly mean) ‘I hear you’.
So I dare you to try it.
Stop explaining and start listening as if you are listening for the first time. As if you have no skin the game. Even when it’s deeply uncomfortable. You might be surprised about what you actually hear.
Are you looking for an online counsellor to help with relationship struggles? You can contact me here to ask questions or book a session.
Main image by Vera Arsic from Pexels