Many years ago I had an argument with my girlfriend that was the most frustrating of my entire life. It was as if I was talking about….you know….what we were talking about, and she was talking about something completely different.
Arguments like this weren’t uncommon at the time and would lead to disconnection, mistrust, anger and a general breakdown of the relationship. It would sometimes take us weeks to recover, involving a lot of pain and frustration.
Something dawned on me recently however that helped me get a new perspective on those arguments. An insight that has changed how I relate to my current partner and has improved our relationship immeasurably.
It involves 3 magic words, that when used correctly, creates connection and love, instead of driving disconnection and mistrust that ultimately lead to the break-up of that old relationship.
Why Don’t You Understand Me?
In my previous relationships, all I wanted was to be understood. We would have disagreements and my partners would share their thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t wait for them to stop talking so I could explain things from my point of view. Because then they would see that I was right and they were wrong and everything would be ok again.
“If you would just stop talking for a moment I have something important to say that will help you realise how right I am.”
It never ended well.
It was as if we were playing tennis together but only hitting our own ball. Nothing came back as we desired because we only chose to inhabit our own worlds view instead of getting curious about each others.
Our discussions had become a complete waste of time, each one more frustrating than the last. We had no way to deal with the situation so we numbed our experience and ignored the situation, unknowingly preparing a time bomb primed to explode.
Don’t Try And Fix Her (She’s Not Broken!)
When I was younger I was strongly connected to a deep sense of logic and reason, and it was from this place that I would communicate with my partners. I was taught to value thought and logic ahead of feelings and emotions, so this is what I would rely on to communicate.
My partners weren’t like this; they communicated using their feelings and emotions, so we ended up having a conversation using two completely different languages, neither of us conversant in the other. I wanted her to understand and acknowledge my logic, whereas she wanted me to connect to and validate her feelings.
She wanted me to understand that she was upset and felt abandoned. I wanted her to understand my logic and that I had called three times exactly when she said and it wasn’t my fault that there was no signal when she tried to call back!
My partner’s emotions used to scare me when I was younger as I didn’t know what to do with them. As a result, I would go into logical thinking and attempt to fix her problems (aka her feelings). I’d throw logic at her that would help her understand why she didn’t need to feel what she was feeling. This way the problem would go away and we could go back to the way things were.
That didn’t go down very well as you can imagine because in her world there was nothing wrong with her feelings. She wanted an opportunity to express them and be validated and understood for who she was.
The 3 Magic Words Women Love
It was when I was introduced to 3 magic words, popularised by Harville Hendrix*, that things really started to change.
Let me explain using a real life example that I went through recently with my partner.
Not long ago we moved in together and following a pretty hectic few days of packing and unpacking, I did something that upset her. I’d been a bit dumb and not very thoughtful, but on the plus side, I had loads of great reasons for it that I couldn’t wait to tell her about!
She initially went quiet, then passive aggressive and eventually she began to share what had happened. As she spoke I noticed that I was immediately triggered by what she was saying. I noticed I wasn’t listening to her anymore and was making up stories about what it meant about me. She was saying I was wrong, I’d made a mistake, I wasn’t thoughtful and it was all my fault.
Then I stopped.
And I listened.
Welcome To Her World
I stopped trying to understand it from my perspective and tried to understand it from hers.
I encouraged her to speak openly and asked her to help me understand what had happened from her perspective as I was genuinely concerned and interested in why she was upset.
By listening beneath the words she was saying I tried to genuinely connect with what she was saying. I tried to imagine her experience from her perspective and not from my own, something more than simply putting myself in her place.
I tried to connect to her feelings and what must she have been through in her life that resulted in her reacting in this way. This is how I see compassion, which is a deep emotional understanding of another person from their perspective and a desire to remove their pain in some way.
It was when she stopped talking that I said these 3 magic words:
“That makes sense”
It makes sense that you would feel upset. It makes sense that you would think I didn’t care, and it makes sense that you’re angry.
I didn’t say it because I read that it works!! I said it because I meant it. It did make sense. It made complete sense based on the woman in front of me. Her experiences of life, what she’s gone through, her thoughts and feelings she’d shared with me.
So I shared that with her too, because saying it makes sense sometimes isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to demonstrate an understanding of why it makes sense to help them feel truly understood.
Back In My World
Being honest, in my world some of it made zero sense at all. Based on my experiences, thoughts, and feelings it wasn’t how I would have reacted. But I’d managed to go beyond my experience and found the compassion in her words and experience. Then, it made complete sense.
The magic isn’t in the three words but in the place from within us that those words are spoken. Say them from your head because you’ve read they’re a cool thing to say to your angry wife, then it will likely go down like a bag of spanners.
Say it because you have stepped into her world for a moment, seen beyond your experience and into hers, then that is a game changer.
Stepping outside of the ego that seeks to make everything mean something about you is key. Your actions may have triggered her reaction but her experience is her own. So stop making it mean everything about you.
Respect Your Own Experience
Everyone is different and there is no one size fits all as a result. It’s important to realise that this need is equally relevant to men. Men want to be validated just like women do. That’s because we are all human and there is no binary formula for relationships; men are like this, women are like that. There are many shades of grey.
I want that validation of making sense just like my partner does. It turns out that I don’t need it as much as she does as I have other needs that feel more nurturing to me.
It’s important to respect each other’s world and their experience but at the same time respecting yourself and your experience too.
And remember, the magic isn’t in the words but the one that says them.
I hope this post was helpful. Have you tried this? Is there anything you would change or add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. For regular content like this just click subscribe below.
To your success
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