Updated: Apr 6
I was shocked. In a session, I’d asked Dave to describe what it was like to be his wife going through her day, from the moment she woke up. He gave such a lovely, detailed answer. Her foggy, not-wanting-the-day-to begin first moments after the alarm went off. Her growing sense of “Shit! There’s so much to do” that overcame her in the shower. Her frantic, disorganized frustration she felt hoping against hope she’d get out of the house in time. And so on and so on.
Then I asked Jess. She thought deeply and said, “I don’t know. I mean, he gets up, gets ready, has his toast and coffee, and leaves the house. I don’t know what you want me to say. He goes to work and, well,...works. He comes home; we have dinner; and we usually have a nice evening. That’s about it, I guess.”
Why did I find this shocking? Because Dave was invisible to her. A mere shadow. A rumor of a man. Less than a roommate; a border.
Now Jess, who’s like millions of us in relationships, thinks of herself as a good person, and in any normal sense of the word, she is a good person. She would never go out of her way to hurt anyone, and, if her husband were sick, she’d be concerned and would bring him chicken soup.
But Jess had no sense of who he was as a person and, more important, he felt she had no interest in who he was as a person.
Maybe it’s Dave’s fault, you say. Maybe he’s a guy who Doesn’t Talk.
Sure. Possibly. But Dave talks to me. The fact is people don’t open up in the face of lack of curiosity and caring. What if when he does talk she makes it clear she’s losing interest if he mentions anything problematic?
I’m talking about this because, at its heart, Why Couples Fight is a book about love, making love deeper and more sustainable. Getting your needs met without conflict is the headline benefit we offer, but if you dig down deeper the solution we offer is all about love, loving better.
And that’s because real love goes beyond listening, beyond even hearing. It’s all about bringing you both to the point where you feel heard. Not only around the needs you’re talking about—though that’s essential if you’re going to come up with a workable, sustainable solution without conflict—but you’re creating fertile soil for love to grow and thrive.
I’ll make this as simple and clear as I can:
There is nothing sexier, more romantic, more endearing than making your partner feel you’ve really heard them, all the way down to their toes, and done so in a way that makes them feel understood and accepted.
You want to know the major reason why people have affairs? It’s because they don’t get feeling heard like this at home. Instead, they get the sense that you don’t want to really hear what they have to say, and if you do hear it you won’t like it.
Now look, realistically, we’re not going to like everything we hear if we really give our partners a good hearing. But let’s say you love our living in the country and I’m suddenly talking about itching to move back to the city. I’m not asking YOU to want to move back to the city. I just want you to hear about how I feel about the whole thing. To understand my yearnings, plus my conflicts around this—yes, I do remember the times I wasn’t happy living in the city. To accept me for wanting to live in the city. To see how maybe if you were in my shoes you’d want to move back to the city too.
And you know how that would feel to me if you heard all that? Like the warmest, deepest, most loving embrace ever. Would it mean, Ha! I’ve gotcha now? Not at all. None of what I’ve said destroys your desire to stay in the country.
In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret. Over and over, when people feel that their desires are given a full and open-hearted hearing, the desire often diminishes. If I tell my husband I want a monkey, and he takes my desire seriously, and accepts me for it, and shows real understanding of where my desire comes from, that may be all I need to be able to face what a stupid idea it actually is to get a monkey as a pet.
But a soul-deep hearing, that’s not stupid at all. That’s the heart, the ever-fertile soil of love.
And if you can do that in the process of trying to get both of your needs met, as we show in Why Couples Fight, then you’ll pretty much be the couple who has everything.