Back to the basics: The importance of definitions
One of the most common conversations that I hear from couples that sit in my Potomac MD couples counseling therapy room goes something like this:
Partner 1: “You said you would support me… I’m going through a very difficult time right now, and you said you would do whatever I need. And you’ve totally let me down! You haven’t been supportive at all!”
Partner 2: “But I’ve been trying so hard! You’re impossible… nothing I do is good enough for you.”
Partner 1: “I don’t ask for much! If you really loved me, you would be there for me.”
Partner 2: “I do love you! Can’t you see that??”
And on, and on. Now, there can be many reasons why a couple goes through this situation – of course, each couple is different. However, I’m willing to bet that in many cases, one simple exercise could begin to untangle the web of hurt feelings that ultimately results from such a conversation.
That exercise is talking to one another about what you mean when you say “support” (in the case above). What is the definition of support for each of you? It sounds so simple, elementary even, but it’s crucial to understanding your partner’s needs as well as your own. In this example, we need to define support – but this concept applies to a myriad of other situations a couple might find themselves in. It can be beneficial for small things like “I’ll be back later this afternoon” (what does “later” or “afternoon” really mean?), for big things like the definition of “affair”, and everything in between. While it might seem obvious to you what constitutes an affair, believe it or not, others’ definitions can vary widely.
It can also be easy to dismiss this practice, believing that you and your partner understand each other inherently and have had all of these discussions before. In the example above, when you reach out to your partner for support, sometimes it’s easy to expect (and even hope) that they will automatically intuit what it is that you need – that they love you so much, and know you so well, that they couldn’t possibly not understand. But the reality is – it’s impossible for anyone to read your mind (yes, even your Potomac MD couples counseling therapists!). Learning to go through the steps below can greatly reduce miscommunications and result in a stronger connection with your partner.
Defining a concept:
- First, express the sentiment or wish – “I really need your support right now.”
- Next, describe to your partner what you mean when you say “support” (or insert other concept here).
- What does “support” look like?
- How would you know that you’re feeling supported? What would it look like to you? Feel like?
- What kinds of actions are you looking for from your partner? (Verbal reassurance? Extra help with the chores? Etc.). Communicate these to your partner.
- Ask your partner what their definition of “support” (insert concept) is. Do your definitions align? If not, continue to discuss where they intersect and where you disagree, and come up with a plan to deal with the difference in meaning.
If you and your partner find that your definitions on something major differ greatly and are having a hard time reconciling them, coming into our Potomac MD marriage counseling office may help you to work through the issue.
Have you ever had an experience where defining something brought new understanding and connection?