Is there a way to stop my spouse from trying to "fix" my problems and actually start listening to me? I'm the kind of person who needs to "vent" from time to time, but whenever I start sharing my emotions, he just cuts me off and gives me a list of things I should do to "fix" things. But I'm not looking for "answers" – just a listening ear. I'm frustrated.
Talking effectively with another person about your feelings and emotions is a delicate art. This is especially true in marriage, where differences in temperament and contrasting male and female styles of communication tend to increase the potential for misunderstanding. The bottom line is that both spouses, whether male or female, pragmatic or introspective, "right-brain" or "left-brain," have moments when they simply want a partner who is capable of listening instead of offering advice. When this doesn't happen, the relationship can feel unsafe, and the depth of conversation can become shallow and unsatisfying.
Genuine intimacy in marriage begins when each spouse takes responsibility for his or her emotions and behaviors. This is more likely to happen in a climate free from judgment, defensiveness, and blame.
If your spouse responds as a "problem solver" when you're simply "venting," thinking out loud, or airing your feelings, we suggest that you respond with a straightforward and honest reply. Say something like, "When I'm not allowed to finish my sentences, I feel discounted and unimportant to you. What I need is to be heard."
When you have emotions you'd like to express, it may be helpful to pray or journal about them before doing anything else. Tell your heavenly Father how you're feeling before you address the issue with your mate. You'll find comfort in looking to Him first, and this may help you to voice your concerns more carefully and with greater perspective when you finally get around to talking with your spouse.
If the feelings you want to express seem likely to spark an argument, you can actually pave the way to conflict resolution by owning up to your emotions and assuming responsibility. Clarification is essential here, since many arguments arise out of a misunderstanding of the actual issue. If a husband says, "We're really short on money this month," it's less than helpful for the wife to respond defensively by saying, "It's not my fault!" It would be much better if she were to clarify the issue by asking, "What are you trying to tell me?" She may not like the answer she gets, but at least a meaningful step will have been taken in the direction of mutual understanding.
Here are some key principles to keep in mind when talking about feelings:
- Be respectful and honoring when your spouse takes responsibility for his or her emotions and behaviors.
- Understand that men and women have different communication styles.
- Develop conflict resolution strategies before attempting to bare your soul.
- Be intentional about adopting an approach to your conversations that will be nurturing to both of you.
- Commit yourselves to make your marriage as enjoyable as possible.
- Keep a prayer journal to release frustration.
All of this sets the stage for safe self-disclosure. What happens next is up to you and your spouse. If you need help sorting it all out and making it work, call us. Focus on the Family's Counseling staff would be happy to come alongside you. Among other things, they can provide you with a list of professionals in your locality who specialize in communication issues. They would also count it a privilege to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Communicating With Your Spouse: Gary Smalley explains how to communicate every day in a meaningful way.
The 'Love and Respect' Principle