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  • Steven Sutton, LCSW

Get Unstuck Part #1

This is a blog series entry. Every week for the next month, we will be sharing 4 different ways a person in a relationship can begin to build a stronger base for communicating with another party. These strategies can be used in a romantic relationship, with co-workers, family members and friends.

  1. Name your partner's feelings

In my experience working with couples and individuals, one of the most common problems that comes up between two people having a high stakes conversation, that they’ve had before, is they feel they’re not being heard or seen in the exchange. What tends to happen is that one partner says what they think or how they feel and the other partner responds with saying what they think or feel. Very often the content of what’s being said is about the partner. Here’s what this can sound like:

#1: “When you just sit there while I’m working hard to clean up the kitchen I feel really taken for granted and it makes me mad.”

#2: “Well you never notice all the times when I do clean up because you’re so focused on work all the time.”

These high stakes conversations, are a great example of a low quality connection. It’s basically two people who are blaming the other for what isn’t working in their life,

at that moment. The basic idea behind a low quality connection is, “if you were just different, then my life would improve.” There’s no more reliable way to start an argument.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, something to try when you’re stuck is to practice naming your partner’s feelings before anything else. You don’t have to be correct or analyze anything. All you have to do is listen sufficiently to perceive how your partner might be feeling in the moment. Here’s what it sounds like in action:

#1: “When you just sit there while I’m working hard to clean up the kitchen I feel really taken for granted and it makes me mad.”

#2: “Ok, you’re tired of this pattern.”

#1: “Yes I am, it’s been happening this way for a long time and I don’t like it.”

#2: “I can see that you’re really upset.”

#1: “Right! I am upset and I want some help.”

#2: “You feel like you’re the only person staying on top of the cleaning.”

Notice that partner #2 is not agreeing with the feelings, they’re not arguing with the feelings, they’re not trying to change the feelings, they’re simply noticing them and naming them. Period. What we’re saying to our partner when we name their feelings is, “I see you. You’re important enough to me to make myself available to you and notice what things are like for you.”

Once you’ve reduced the pressure in the conversation by naming your partner’s feelings you may find that proceeding in a more positive direction is easier to accomplish. You begin to have a higher quality connection which in turn creates a stronger relationship.

This also works in other kinds of conversations, and also for good as well as bad feelings.

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