It can be easy for a couple to engage in what I call “Yes, but…” communication. It usually begins with one expressing a negative emotional response (anger, frustration, guilt, shame, sadness, etc.) over something the other said or did. Rather than acknowledging his/her mate’s feelings and taking some measure of responsibility, the other quickly dismisses the hurt he/she caused and moves into a defensive justification, rationalization, or redirection. So, conversations go something like this:
Lois: It really hurt me when your family was laughing at me.
Clark: Yes, but you know they really didn’t mean anything by it.
Lois: Still, I wish you would have stood up for me.
Clark: Yes, but you’ve always been too sensitive about this kind of stuff.
Lois: How is it being sensitive when I don’t like being the butt of their jokes?!
Clark: Yes, but my brother Bruce’s wife doesn’t seem to have a problem with my family! What’s wrong with you?!
Whether the actual phrase “Yes, but…” is used or not, this type of communication becomes destructive to the relationship. We all have an innate need to feel heard, because when you have a voice you have value. “Yes, but…” communication immediately says, “I am dismissing anything you are thinking or feeling as irrelevant.” It subverts healthy communication, and active listening is lost as each person strives to be heard—one from a place of pain and the other from a place of apathy, indifference, or selfish pride. Conversations normally escalate as one or both mates feel invalidated and uncared for. Typically the negative emotion present at the beginning of the conversation is intensified rather than healed through loving attentiveness.
So, how do we say what we want or need to say, and still maintain loving, productive communication? First, learn to really listen. Research has shown that most people don’t hear what a person says past the first sentence because they are already formulating how they are going to respond or defend a position or action. Listen fully, reflecting back to your mate what you are hearing. Ask clarifying questions if needed, but not in a way that is argumentative or belittling. Second, when it is your turn to speak, speak only for yourself and not for your mate. Too many times, a person will say things like, “I know what you’re thinking,” or “I know how you’re going to respond to this.” You might be right, but you can only speak for yourself. Third, discipline yourself to practice wholly non-judgmental responses. If you’re mate tells you he/she is hurt by something, don’t diminish or try to explain away his/her pain. Whether you feel the same way or not, the pain is real for your mate. When something hurts you, do you want to hear “Get over it. You have no right to feel that way,” or do you want to hear “I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?” And most significantly, freely give and received forgiveness. When you and your spouse cultivate an ongoing environment of forgiveness, you eliminate the roots of anger and bitterness before it can take hold.
Absolutely perfect communication doesn’t always happen, but good communication can be commonplace if we treat our spouses the way we want to be treated, especially when he/she is hurt.