When I’m working with couples one thing I frequently hear is one person telling the other person what they think, want, feel. I’m always amazed because the other person hasn’t said what they think, want or feel.
The psychological term for this is “projection” meaning the person “projects” on to the other person what they think, want, feel or fear. For instance, if she tells him that she knows he wants a divorce, it can be true that he does want a divorce but it might also not be true. Who knows? He didn’t say it, she did. I use her as the antagonist in this vignette because women most often engage in this style of non-communication although some men do it too.
O.K. That’s the psychological explanation. In real life terms what I see is a whole lot of people telling other people what they think, want, or feel, without ever asking them. Usually, once the accusation has been made, the person making the accusation just keeps on talking, never mind giving the accused a chance to answer.
So this is how it goes:
She: “You haven’t been happy with me for a long time.
She: “Why don’t you just tell me you want a divorce instead of frosting me all the time?”
She: “You never ask me to go anywhere, you’re always staring at the TV, you don’t help with the kids and I have to do almost all of the housework while you go off and “do your thing.”
He: Clears his throat and appears to begin to stay something but she jumps back in before he can.
She: (Voice a little higher and louder now) I don’t know why you married me in the first place. I’m not your type, never was, and never will be. I see how you look at other women when we’re out (a direct contradiction to the statement that they never go out. They must go somewhere).
He: “That’s not true.”
She: “Really, when was the last time you told me you loved me or complimented me?”
He: Starts to say something.
She: “You can’t remember the last time that’s why you can’t answer that. I don’t even know why we’re here (in my office).
Me: (Turning to him) ”Is what she’s saying true?”
He: “Which part?”
Me: “Any of it that you can remember or we can go over these things a step at a time.”
He: (To me) I don’t want a divorce.
She: (Jumping in) “You’re just saying that so you look like a nice guy. You know you don’t mean it.”
These “conversations” can be about different things but, when one person isn’t allowed to speak the only thing that’s actually going on is that, in this case, she’s saying what she believes to be true, not necessarily what is true. It’s unlikely that he “never or always” does any of the things she accuses him of and, if she doesn’t stop talking and listen, she’s not only not going to know what he thinks, feels, or wants, she is unwittingly creating a “self-fulfilling prophecy” because she’s badgering him and not allowing him to talk. If she’s doing it in my office it’s very likely that this is what she does at home on a regular basis, which is a very good way for your partner to fall out of love with you or even like you, which could cause some avoidant behavior that didn’t exist before she created it.
This couple won’t solve this in the first session or even the second but I will point out to her at the end of the first session that I noticed she didn’t ask him what he felt, she told him and that I understand that’s what she’s afraid is going on but she really needs to slow down and ask him a question, just one, and then wait for him to answer without interrupting him and to consider what he says, no matter what it is, without getting angry so they can begin some clear communication. I assure her that I know she really is afraid of the things she said and she really does want to know. She’s just not helping herself or him when she gets so upset that they can’t talk calmly. Women don’t do themselves any favor by “over talking.” In fact, they usually get more upset and he usually withdraws and doesn’t say a thing, which upsets her even more which causes him to withdraw even more and then we have a perfect circle or is it perfect storm?
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