Loving In Your Partner’s Shoes

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relationship coaching

What kind of crazy headline is that?? It might not make sense right now, but let me explain.

Do you sometimes feel as if your partner is purposefully ignoring your requests, or purposefully trying to be difficult and hurtful towards you?

Does it seem like you are constantly in a losing battle to get your needs met, or to figure out how to resolve an ongoing problem between the two of you?

It can be extremely frustrating and, at times, completely destructive to be in a situation like this, when no matter how much you try, you end up back at square one every time.

You go over and over the situation in your head and come to conclusions that seem right based on your experience and you wonder how you can get your partner to see things from your perspective.

But perhaps it’s not your perspective you need to push.

What if I told you, you could get a whole lot further by considering your partner’s perspective instead?

Fighting Blind

I recently worked with a couple that had already been to a series of group marriage classes and learning about each others love languages was a foundational element of the sessions.

Through their learning the wife identified that she needed physical closeness to feel loved, particularly when she was hurt, feeling down, or just wanting connection.

Her husband identified that he needed recognition and appreciation for all the work he did to create a comfortable life for their family, including his job and other areas that he put a lot of effort into.

With these new insights on board they left the class and the wife promptly went about giving a lot more messages of appreciation and validation. Everything her husband did to help or improve their situation, she praised him for it, almost going over the top to show how much it meant to her. Her husband seemed to positively glow with pride each time and she felt good for giving him this love.

Then one day she experienced a particularly bad day and was feeling overwhelmed with life. She expressed this to her husband hoping he would try out his new understanding and give her a hug.

He didn’t, so she came out and blatantly asked him to give her a hug. Still he didn’t, which made her more upset until the tears came.

And still he wouldn’t hug her.

She walked away hurt, disappointed and feeling resentful towards her husband. She questioned his feelings for her and his desire to make their marriage work at all.

Why despite new knowledge, clear requests and a strong emotional response to his lack of affection would her husband deny such a simple and yet powerful gesture? Her words to me when I asked what she thought it was all about were “He just doesn’t care is all. I’m just not that important to him.”

I could understand her somewhat defeated conclusion.

I encouraged my client to think about whether there would be anything her husband might be fearful or cautious about in giving out his hugs. What could he stand to lose? What might threaten him if he let himself go with this basic connection?

At first there didn’t seem to be any reasons that she could think of and it seemed she was becoming slightly annoyed that we were focusing on her husband and not on how she was missing out. And then there was a moment of silence followed by:

  • “I think when I am upset he feels like it is his fault and he needs to defend himself which might make him withdraw from me”.
  • “Or he could be feeling that hugging me means my problem is now also his and I know he already feels pressured by everything he already does to solve other problems for us as a family”.
  • “Also I know he wants me to be stronger and I guess he could be worried that if he hugs me, I am going to depend on him more and more to provide emotional support rather than getting stronger myself”.
  • “The thing is, I don’t think he’s trying to hurt me by not hugging me, I think it just feels uncomfortable and confusing for him because he is always the one sorting things out and he can’t ‘sort’ me out”.

All of a sudden my clients face softened and she saw beyond the surface of this apparent rejection, into the depths of meaning her husband might bring to her request.

Now, rather than standing only in her shoes, with only the knowledge of how this experience felt for her, she had stepped into her husband’s shoes and looked at it from his perspective.

Do you need to look at your stories from another angle?

When we find ourselves in a situation that we aren’t happy about, or doesn’t meet our needs in some way, it’s common to get stuck in a cycle of thinking only about how it is for us, and how we are the victims of the situation.

What we feel is real for us, and can’t be disputed.

But the truth behind that feeling can be examined, and it is only with facts from all sides that you can fully understand what’s really going on.

At first this means being willing to put your ego aside and ask if there is more to the situation than you are aware of, and if so, what else might be going on for your partner.

Obviously you can’t know for sure if what you imagine might be going on for your partner is actually true so the next step is to be brave, open and loving, and ask your partner for their truth, so that you can better understand what’s really going on.

So, next time you find yourself in a situation where your feel completely at odds with your partner, and can’t seem to get what you want or need from them, stop and step out of your shoes, into theirs. It might be hard to hear what they have to say, but if you are willing to listen and learn, it could take you a lot closer to that love you really want. 

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