Fast Fix Flowers: Listening Between the Lines
A while back I was talking with a distressed couple on the brink of ending their relationship. Their situation reminded me of the importance of closely attending to what our partners really want. I call this “listening between the lines.” In this situation the wife was tremendously upset by something awful the husband had done. Embarrassed. Livid. This was how she felt, and rightfully so. She just wanted distance. Space to think and feel. Almost anyone in her situation, including you or I, would probably feel the same.
Follow up actions can help or harm.
The husband, to his credit, owned up to his actions and began doing what he could to initiate repair in the relationship. One such action was to buy his wife flowers. Under normal circumstances this would be a welcome gesture to most wives! A thoughtful, spur of the moment gift to make her feel special, right? Perhaps not surprisingly, in this situation the wife was more upset by the gift. She saw it as a refusal to respect her desire for space and time to process her feelings and decide what she would like to do moving forward.
What kind of flowers does she really want?
The repentant husband learned that giving his wife some space was exactly the kind of “flowers” she wanted. It wasn’t about a quick fix, or something that would directly make her (or him) feel better in the short term. It was about allowing forgiveness to happen on his partner’s terms, if at all. The first step to potential healing was to give up control over the healing process and take the risk of giving exactly what his wife needed at the moment.
Ask for what you need!
If you’ve experienced a breech of trust in a relationship, been hurt deeply, and felt like giving up on a relationship that means the world to you, it’s important to ask for exactly what you believe you need. Setting boundaries will be important. You may want space. You may initially want more frequent check-ins with your partner. You will typically be the best person to identify your needs in any given moment. That said, your partner may need to help you express those needs, and this can be hard to do if communication has not been a strength in your relationship.
Finding the journey too difficult alone?
Learning to trust again, learning to communicate in healthy ways, having someone to facilitate discussion and problem-solving, these are all things that effective marriage counselors can help with. If you are in the Huntington Beach or Orange County area and need help getting a derailed relationship back on the tracks, please give me a call to discuss how I can help.
Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.