04 Oct Out-talked By a Partner Who Is Better At Communicating Than You Are?
Ever seen a deer in the headlights? Then you’ll know exactly what expression I see on some of my client’s faces when their partners start talking about relationship issues. They look freaked out, frozen, and frantic to avoid annihilation by a partner, who they believe is better at communicating than they are.
Not everybody is good with words.
Some people find it hard to find the right words that match what’s going on inside their head. And even those who can find words may not be good at finding them all the time, especially when under the immense pressure that relationship challenges can create.
If this is you, you might feel pretty uncomfortable… or absolutely terrified… when you and your partner need to talk about relationship issues.
If you feel out-talked by a partner who always seems to know exactly what to say, and has an endless supply of responses that overshadow even your most articulate offerings, I’m guessing that there are times you feel just like a deer in the headlights too.
Clients tell me it’s a hopeless feeling to be up against a partner with communication skills that seem better than what they have. They also often tell me that their relationship issues usually don’t get resolved.
If this is you, when you’re feeling out-talked you’ll either dig your heels in and argue back, or give in and retreat. Neither option is good communication and neither will allow you to be heard.
It’s really important that you are heard. There is a better way. It just requires changing up the rules a little.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Have zero tolerance for destructive communication styles:
Verbally abusive communication has no place in a healthy relationship. If you or your partner communicate about relationship issues using blaming, shaming, name-calling, or any of the other forms of verbal abuse, removing this destructive and totally unproductive communication style from your relationship repertoire is where you’ll need to start.
2. Respect your partner’s style of talking… and respect your own:
If your partner is never lost for words and ever ready for discussion and debate, that’s fine! But it’s also fine if you’re not. Slower talkers often feel pressured to keep up with a speedy partner. It’s important to trust that great communication can be slow, too.
If you communicate better when you take conversations more slowly, simply acknowledge what you’ve heard, then respectfully ask your partner for some thinking time before you respond. So long as you stay accountable for resuming the conversation once you’re ready, a respectful partner will understand that this is a totally reasonable request.
Remember that deer in the headlights? It’s perceiving danger. There’s a fear-based chemical cascade going on inside, and there’s no way that it’s thinking clearly. When you’re feeling out-talked by a partner who is doing communication jujitsu with you (and winning), you’re not thinking clearly either. You must soothe your nervous system, and to do this you absolutely must get skilled at diaphragmatic breathing.
4. Take notes before and even during a discussion:
You’d do it in an important meeting at work, so why not do it when communicating about important relationship issues with your partner? Even if you usually have a great memory, you won’t necessarily have access to it when you’re discussing relationship issues and emotionally overloaded.
Great at communication isn’t a memory test. Help yourself stay on track by writing down what you intend to say, and even what you’re hearing (and thinking) as a conversation unfolds.
5. Ask for clarity when you need it:
Even partners who are awesome at talking are confusing at times. Not understanding something does not mean you’re bad at communication. But you will be bad at communicating if you don’t understand something and then you don’t ask for clarification!
Asking for something to be repeated or explained in a different way whenever you’re not clear is the only way to fully respect the process of communication in the first place. Don’t ever be afraid to say “Can I just check I’m understanding you correctly?”
6. Pause if things get too heated:
Understanding emotional flooding, and knowing how to manage it, is crucial if you want a relationship that thrives. All successful couples know that continuing to discuss relationship issues once one or both partners are excessively sad, mad, or overwhelmed, does not work. Keep your relationship safe by asking for, and granting each other, time-out when it’s needed.
Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Pamela has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive for over 25 years. Contact Pamela here.