A Connection to Remember

WOAH! Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah!

What did she just say?

Did I just hear what I thought I heard: The words every person in a relationship fears to hear at any point in time? You’ve got to be kidding.

What the hell am I supposed to do now? It’s not like she’s giving me much breathing room here.

Why couldn’t she just say “we have to talk”? What kind of bullsh*t is this? Who just says that?

Ok, ok, try to focus. She said it. And she said it in that tone: The one that means business. She’s not just saying it to jostle me; she’s serious. And this is not a vulpine move: I know that. She’s pissed off and she’s putting her foot down.

The words set my thoughts on fire like napalm. Is there any way to respond to that without freaking out? I mean, what does she expect me to do?

“I want to have an affair”

An affair? What the hell…because I’m not enough for her? Wow, I’ve really lost it. Why couldn’t I have seen this coming?

Wait a second, it’s not like I’m an abusive boyfriend; I tell her I love her all the time. I’m there for her when she needs me; I make an effort to interact with her family and friends. So what is this? Why an affair?

Alright, I have to respond but I don’t want to snap at her – she’s already pulling away, I don’t want to make the gap farther, I want to close it… so what can I say?

“Go ahead you ungrateful bit-” no, no, that’s pushing. Try again.

“But you mean the world to me! Why would you-” No, that’s pulling her towards me and if she’s already pushing, then pulling is going to tear her apart.

I need to say something that’s going to communicate that I want to deal with this with her; show her that this is a real relationship, no matter how much I’m freaked out right now.

“I hear you. I hear that you want to have an affair”. Woah, where did that come from? Well, I want to show her that I’m attentive to her needs and that I’m meeting her where she is right now. I want to listen, really listen to her. That way, I’ll find out why she wants to have an affair. “What’s going on?” that’s good. It’s a straight up question posed after I’ve let her know that I’m all ears.

“I feel like you don’t listen to me anymore”.

That’s SUCH HORSESH- hold on, hold on; these are her feelings. She’s allowed to feel that way. But I do listen to her – and I’m listening now. She’s putting the blame about how she feels on me, like I can control how she feels. That is not how it works.

“Don’t talk about me, talk about you.” We’ve discussed this before – I’ve let her know in the past that only I can make myself feel something. If she does something, it’s MY choice whether I react to it or not. So If I’m angry about something, I’m angry. And while I might feel angry at her for doing something, the truth is that it’s my issue to deal with, not hers. We’re adults now and responsibility’s the name of the game. I’m not shutting her down, I’m just focusing her.

“Ok, I don’t feel listened to.”

Good, she’s taking responsibility. That’s important because it means she’s ready to share more about where she is, not blame me. All I can do is listen, because if I tell her she’s wrong, I’m going to push her away. So just keep listening.

“Okay, I hear that you don’t feel listened to”. Good, I’m not putting any words in her mouth and I’m just there as a sounding board so she can get her thoughts out and then go back to being sane- I mean calm.

“That’s right. And I know that you listen to me, it’s just-“

No, don’t let her drift! Remind her about what she needs to talk about. “Keep it about you.”

“Right. I feel listened to sometimes it’s just lately… we’ve been really busy – I’ve been really busy.”

She caught herself there, that’s great! Just keep it going. “I hear you say that you’ve been really busy.”

“Yeah. And I really want to spend more time with you because I don’t feel connected.”

Oh, so it’s about connection! I didn’t realize that she felt a loss of connection. Don’t get distracted, keep going.

“So I hear that you don’t feel connected to me.” That’s it, no more. And look how she’s smiling. I don’t know where that affair came from but now’s not the time to ask, just stay on task.

            “No… well… I am now. *Sigh* I just want to feel that I can still talk to you about my day because I haven’t done that in a while… I’m okay. I don’t want to have an affair anymore.”

Wow… I kind of can’t believe we got through that without so much as a bruise. But I kept my calm (after losing my mind for a moment) and just listened to what she had to say. The reflection of her feelings helped her to feel validated and that encourages her to want to share more. That’s how she knew without a doubt I was right there with her. I didn’t have to defend my actions or anything! Wow, I feel incredible!

2 thoughts on “A Connection to Remember

  1. This is a great post which really gets across a great way to handle a very uncomfortable situation. Just the other week, I was talking to my students about assertiveness and negotiation as well as touching upon how to deal with conflict. I didn’t want to get TOO stuck into the conflict idea, because of course I hope (perhaps vainly) they will not face it, as they work on this module in small groups. Although their conversations aren’t likely to be quite this personal, the model’s still the same: don’t blow up, just listen and prove that you’re listening, then all will become clear.
    Easier said than done, but I think this helps to show why that’s a good thing to aim for.

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