(RE)ENGAGING YOUR PARTNER CONSTRUCTIVELY

If your partner is dismissing your feelings, you might also be tempted to try to force them to be present. During some of their conversations, George had a hard time listening to Maria talk about how devastated she felt because of his affair. He would get a blank, distant look on his face, as if he were somewhere else. This drove Maria crazy, and she would sometimes scream, “Pay attention to what I’m saying!”

Instead, it would have been better for her to express her frustration by saying, “I’m sad and confused because I don’t feel understood,” but not push it too far. People who have a tendency to “check out”—typically people with a cool style of attachment—often completely do so when forced to listen. If you consistently run into a brick wall when trying to get your partner to empathize with you, the problem you’re dealing with is probably larger than the betrayal you uncovered, so talking with a counselor may be your best option.

Defensive Response. If your partner gets defensive or wants to argue about what happened, avoid going down that path. Tell him or her that you just want to share your feelings and you can worry about the details or other issues later. Be explicit and say, “I just want to feel understood right now.” If you feel yourself getting frustrated or agitated, come back to the phrase, “I just want to share my feelings; we’ll talk about details later.” If your partner still responds defensively, take a break and make it clear that you don’t want to move forward until you’ve expressed your feelings and have been heard. Don’t let the conversation stray into other issues or topics.

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