It was happening again. Bob and Peggy were standing in the kitchen, both voices increasingly getting louder.
Peggy: "I can't believe you didn't show up to my doctor appointment today. You said you would be there. How could you just not show up?!”
Bob: "I didn't know it was today. It wasn't on our calendar. Besides, I've been pretty busy trying to manage everything at work. It's not easy taking off in the middle of the day."
Peggy: "I've been talking about this appointment all week! Don't you ever listen to me?"
Bob: "It's hard to listen when all you do is scream at me!"
Can you relate to an interaction like this? Both partners are yelling back and forth, emotions are heightened, and no one is really hearing the other. It’s confusing to understand why or how things have escalated so quickly. Isn't it ironic - both partners yelling to be heard and neither one of them can actually hear what their spouse is saying? After all, that's why we yell, right? To be heard? Our screams become desperate pleas for our husband or wife to hear and understand us. Only instead of our lover hearing us, they either shut down, unable to tolerate the distress of being yelled at, or they yell back in defense. So how do we get our spouse to really hear us? The irony is, getting louder doesn't get our partner to hear us, getting quieter does.
When I say getting quieter, I don't mean silence. Stonewalling or giving our partner the "cold-shoulder" only creates another set of problems. What I mean by getting quieter is becoming softer, more vulnerable, literally quieting your voice. For instance, instead of Peggy shouting how angry she is that Bob missed her appointment, she could take a risk and share quietly, softly, vulnerably, "I was counting on you today for support; I needed you. I was really scared. I felt all alone". This quiet approach not only is more likely to be heard, but it also is more likely to elicit a response from Bob that conveys understanding and compassion. He might respond with, "I know you've been scared about this appointment. I really wanted to be there for you, for you to know you don't have to go through this alone. I'm sorry I completely forgot - I dropped the ball. I'm here now". Feels different, right?
Next time you find yourself wanting to scream to be heard, I wonder what would happen if instead of getting louder, you got quieter? If your partner can’t hear your screams, can they hear your whispers? Give it a try and let me know how it goes!