put each other first
My instinct was to want to convince her and go on the attack, but we have been through this enough times that I was able to recognize that impulse and keep it in check. Instead, I listened and tried to imagine what she was experiencing. I told her that she was my priority and I meant it. I was able to see clearly that she was much more important to me than any house. This not only helped to take the pressure off of her, but it made me feel a million times better.
I was only able to realize all of this based on all of the mistakes I have made in the past. We spent the past couple of weeks talking, agonizing, making lists, etc. Eventually, she was willing to go for it even though it wasn't what she wanted, but because it was great for me. I was willing to walk away from it if she didn't feel excited about it.
This stressful experience made us feel closer to each other because we both felt the other had our interests in mind. Our desire for the other's happiness and well-being trumped the desire or lack of desire to move. We ended up walking away from the house and both of us feeling good about it.
If you have different needs than your partner concerning a specific issue, it is natural that your vision will become more myopic. You will focus on what you want and defend against what you don't want. We all do it.
Unfortunately, this behavior is self-defeating. By protecting your vision at the expense of opening up to how your partner feels, you are less likely to get what you want. This behavior creates adrenaline and puts us in fight-flight. When our sympathetic nervous systems are aroused, we are less able to hear each other and take in new information.
A good way to practice open-hearted listening is to ask open-ended questions. This won't work if your heart isn't in it. It will work if you can get curious about how your partner feels and don't assume you already know.
Here are some examples of simple open-ended questions you can ask each other:
- How are you feeling right now?
- How was your day?
- Is anything troubling you?
Pretty simple and straightforward, right? The key is not to interrupt, try to fix, or criticize. All you have to do is listen, which leads to the third and final point I'm going to discuss. You cannot listen if you don't make the time.
Prioritize time together
It's a mistake most of us make. In our case, we have a little one that is always demanding and we have a teenager that has bionic ears and stays up later than we do. The bottom line is that we have little to no privacy or time for us. Luckily, when we do take the time to be alone together we realize how much we enjoy it and need it. That said, we don't do it enough.
Date night is one way to do it. If that's not possible on a regular basis, making sure you sit down together for meals is super important. It's not one on one time if the kids are there, but it's quality family and bonding time. Another thing to look at is how you deal with your cell phones. Try not bringing them to the dinner table. Put them away if you're talking to each other.
Finally, try a simple check-in that you schedule every day for 5-10 minutes. All you need to do is ask each other how you're doing/feeling and listen. I don't care how busy you are. You can find 5-10 minutes to shut yourselves in the bathroom to do this. It's watering the plant.
THE ART OF FILLING YOUR PARTNER'S CUP: NOT REACTING, LISTENING AND UNDERSTANDING
HOW TO BEST SUPPORT YOUR PARTNER WHEN THEY ARE UPSET
THE ART OF COMPROMISE: NAVIGATING DIFFERENCES IN RELATIONSHIPS
12 TIPS TO AVOID REGRET IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
HOW TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY
7 MYTHS OF SUCCESSFUL RELATIONSHIPS
If you haven’t already read the book, it’s a great place to start - Relationship Reboot: Break free from the bad habits in your relationship.
David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 13-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old toy poodle.