Giving this way requires learning a skill that we call intentional dialogue. It includes three steps: mirroring, validating, and empathizing. While it's best if both partners participate, one person's change in attitude can make a difference—just as Helen's solo efforts helped our relationship.
Look for opportunities to communicate this way, say, when you and your partner are discussing how to spend a free Saturday. Maybe your partner wants to watch a football game on TV but you don't. When the disagreement becomes obvious, you might feel a familiar rush of anger. You think, "Football—this is your idea of being together?!"
But you know what will likely happen if you say this, so instead you mirror what your partner has just said—no reacting negatively. "Let me see if I understand," you say. "This game is a way for you to relax. It will be over at four, and then you'd like to do something together. Is that right? Is there more?" The latter question is very important. There is always more, and we usually don't wait for it.
You then validate his right to do what he wants, saying something like, "I know the game is a way to relax. I'm sad, but that doesn't mean I don't understand." Notice that you don't have to agree with him—or think he's right and you're wrong—in order to validate him.
Next you empathize with him, reaffirming that you stand with him instead of against him, by saying: "I want you to feel that you have time on the weekends to do what you want."
At first glance, it may look like you're swallowing your feelings in order to cater to your partner's. But you are simply letting him know you have heard him, while still holding on to your own wishes. He might reciprocate, asking you what you are thinking.
If he doesn't notice your efforts, keep at it. Changing communication habits can take a long time. But letting your partner know that you hear him, respect his feelings, and can enter into his experience even when you see things differently, will make him feel loved and will demonstrate how he can do the same for you. Your partner may not participate at first, but if you hold your course, he will likely join you. A relationship cannot remain the same when one of you has changed. With some work, you both might even find yourselves back marveling at the magic of your happiness.
Harville Hendrix is the author of Getting the Love You Want.
More tips from Harville Hendrix: The marriage repair kit
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