When You Both Feel Misunderstood - 5 Tips For Clear Communication

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By Summer Hough, MA

A conversation with your partner begins innocently enough, but clear communication can get muddy in hurry.

Sound familiar?

You know how it goes: you are having a perfectly nice discussion, but a facial expression suddenly sours, open body language shifts to being closed off, or a phrase or tone of voice doesn’t sit right. Your sunny dispositions may cloud over as a simple discussion turns into a disagreement.

Poor communication can ruin a good conversation about anything—parenting styles, what to do for vacation, finances, household tasks – just to name a few. When clarity gives way to an offense, you both feel unheard or misunderstood.

It can be so frustrating!

You just want to explain yourself to your partner so they will get it and then agree with you. Right?

However, many times that doesn’t happen. Instead, the situation only goes from bad to worse.

To avoid such misunderstandings, consider five tips to help you to achieve clear communication.

1. Put Yourself in Your Partner’s Shoes

Often, one of the reasons why we feel misunderstood is because we believe our position or opinion is the right one. You may think, “If only I could convince my partner of the true facts, as I see it, they would get it!” Problem solved.

This approach doesn’t often work, as your partner most likely only digs in deeper with their own “true facts.”

Take a breath to give yourself a short pause before responding to your partner. Take a moment to step back and see things from your partner’s perspective. Consider how they might view the situation from their side. Can you consider that perspective and find common ground?

Putting effort into seeing things from the other person’s viewpoint really helps when it comes to effective communication.

2. Know How to Interrupt

A general rule of thumb is that interrupting your partner is not helpful and only leads to conflict escalation.

However, if there is a time when you must pause the conversation to focus on a particular point, don’t default to rudeness or start talking over your partner. Rather, say, “Excuse me, you’re bringing up a really good point here. Could we explore that further?”

Frame the interruption as a question with the intent of furthering your understanding. This is productive and respectful, as opposed to interrupting with the goal of shutting your partner down by disagreeing or saying they’re wrong in their point of view.

3. “I” vs. “You” Statements

When it comes to misunderstandings with our partner, it’s easy to use language focused outward instead of inward. It can be easy to generalize, catastrophize, and minimize someone else’s behavior, too. Do you say things like:

  • You always do that!
  • You never listen to me!
  • Can’t you just stop for a moment?

Instead, use “I” statements to express what you are feeling. For example, “I feel disregarded when it seems what I have to say is not important. I need to feel that I’m heard, even if we disagree on this issue.”

Hear the difference?

Criticism of your partner is gone when “I” statements are present. You are speaking from your point of view and the emotions you are feeling. Be aware of the use of the word “you” during conflict, which can feel like criticism to your partner, and often results in the back-and-forth volley of defensiveness between the two of you.

This kind of approach helps your partner stay more open to what you have to say instead of feeling backed into a corner or accused by you.

4. Avoid the “Here We Go Again” Mentality

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Here we go again,” when talking with your partner? This refers to the repeated actions or speech your partner uses. Even just the fact that you are having another argument about the same old thing can bring this thought to mind.

“Here we go again” thinking causes you to mentally write your partner off before they have even had a chance to express themselves.

Think about it. If there is a theme that repeatedly comes up, perhaps it’s time you both really addressed it. To do this well, be willing to have an open mind when your partner brings up the perpetual issue. Ask questions. Be curious. Try to understand, even if you don’t agree.

5. Listen, Don’t Speak

The key to clear communication with your partner has less to do with speaking and more to do with listening. That means avoiding the temptation to jump in and “correct” your partner or talk over them.

Truly listening involves more than just opening your ears. It also means having an open heart.

When each of you opens up, real sharing and dialogue can occur. Otherwise, you are just fending each other off with your emotional walls and defenses. When that happens, emotional vulnerability is off the table, and little or no progress can be made

No one likes to feel misunderstood. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about creating clear communication and understanding. The wrong way means shutting yourself off, not listening to your partner, and being dismissive.
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Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern works with couples and individuals, helping them to improve their relationships through improved communication skills. She sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, a specialty practice helping couples, families, and individuals building and maintain positive and happy relationships. Contact Summer at 512-270-4883, ext. 110, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and request an appointment with her.