“I’m in a relationship with a very good man who I laugh with, have fun with, trust, care about, and see a future with (while he also talks of a future with me.) We have been together of a year and a half. However, I’m noticing this awful communication pattern. When I bring my hurt feelings up, he seems to always turn it around and put it on me so that he does not hold any accountability for his behaviors and words. Our day to day communication is good, but when it comes to him hurting my feelings, I just cannot find an effective way to communicate with him. I often find myself just saying I’m sorry to move forward because he cannot see his actions as hurtful. I’m tired of feeling like I have to give in constantly to make the relationship work. On one hand, I feel like we have a good thing, but on the other, we just can’t seem to communicate and both feel heard.
Are there some tools that can help me in this matter? Or is it better for me to find another relationship? I’m happy to put the work in, but I’m not sure how much work is too much.
What you’re describing is not uncommon in relationships. And you’re right…it IS the communication that needs improvement. The good news is that you are 50% of the equation so there’s a lot you can do to try and improve things. If it were all just him then you’d be screwed because we can’t control or change others….plus, it never feels good to feel powerless. The easiest place to make changes is with ourselves.
So, first thing that comes to mind is timing. Timing is everything, especially when talking to a guy. Men tend to have single focus attention. It means that they only notice, hear, or see whatever it is he’s doing at the time. Can he multi-task? Yes…as long as all the things he’s multi-tasking have to do with the main thing he’s focusing on. So when you need to have some dialogue about something important such as your feelings, it’s a good idea to ask him when would be a good time to talk. That way he can tell you when his single focus attention can be on you.
Second, wording is vital. The actual specific words you choose and the order in which you put them in a sentence can make or break an attempt at communicating. As cliche as it is, the age old “When you, I feel” model has stood the test of time because it works. A newer version of it goes something like:
(Show appreciation first): “I know you’ve been busy and I’m really grateful you’re making the time to support me right now” (or whatever nice thing you want to say)
(State the fact): “You might not know this, but yesterday when you (insert the thing he did)…”. Facts are facts. It’s important to start with this and make sure he knows or recalls the event. Sometimes you’ll find that there’s a difference of opinion about the facts. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree…but still let him know how it was for you by saying these next parts….
(State your interpretation): “…what I did in my head was tell myself (insert whatever it is you perceived, like “you don’t love me anymore” or “my needs aren’t important”). This is crucial. This is where you take ownership of your own thoughts and perceptions. Just because you think that’s what he meant…you might just be making it up. You need to check it out with him.
(State your feelings): “….and so I felt really hurt.” At the end of the day, if you feel sad or hurt, it’s important he know this. If someone is the right fit for you they will want you to be happy. If something is happening that’s contributing to your pain, a good and healthy person will want to work on it so you don’t have to hurt anymore. Nobody is perfect, but if they are healthy they can make progress and improvements if the willingness is there.
(State what he can do to provide for you or make you happy): “…What I’d prefer/like to ask/need is (insert your request or need). That would make me really happy.” Sometimes all you might need is a hug or an acknowledgement. He’s not psychic (but if he’s psycho I suggest you run in the other direction!) He needs to know concrete, specific things he can do. Do not make vague, ominous requests that can be misinterpreted. Be clear and specific.
(Ask if he’s willing): “…Is that something you’d be willing to try?”
(Ask if there’s something you can do to help with the request): “Is there something I can do to help you provide this?”
Sometimes he’ll need a reminder, like post its or a text. Sometimes a key word that you agree on is needed so you can say the word when whatever it is that you’re trying to alleviate is happening. Remember you’re a team and, if you both acknowledge that you love and care for each other, you can agree to tackle this problem together.
It’s OK to tell him it’s a problem. Men are problem solvers by nature. Remember he’s not you (a woman). Women have a tendency to take things more personally, so if someone tells us they have a problem that involves us, naturally we freak out and have anxiety and get our feelings hurt because it feels like a criticism. But men, when they hear the word “problem”, their brain automatically goes into “How do I solve the problem?” It’s not a bad word to them. So use it when you’re asking him to provide or repair something for you…including your feelings.
There’s a book I really like, if you’re into books. It’s written by Sue Johnson who created Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. I trained with her and I like her model for couples work. Her book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, is really user friendly. The other suggestion I would make is a series of workshops called Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women. They are held all over the United States and are packed with great tools for women (and men!) to help you get what you need and have him be thrilled to give it to you. I was SO NOT a workshop gal but I got talked into trying the free info seminar. I loved it. Now I’ve done all of the workshops (twice) and it not only changed my perception of romantic relationships, it helped me in my work with my male patients AND brought me closer to my brother and my step-dad. So, if you ever have the opportunity to attend I would highly recommend it.
Don’t give up on him. It sounds like things are really great except for this one area and there’s a lot of hope that the two of you can learn how each of you interprets things and the best ways you each need to be communicated with. It’s possible that the subject matter or the approach triggers something for him and all he might need is a different formula when it comes to talking about your feelings. I hope this helps! Let me know how it goes.