Angus and I recently saw how to be even kinder to each other. We are experiencing a new level of patience and understanding between us. This happened after a challenging conversation where we both took what the other person was saying personally and felt hurt. But we are grateful for this experience because of the learning.

Our willingness to stick with the conversation and return to it was essential. Closing the loop on discussions so there can be deeper understanding is beneficial for moving forward in relationships.

We often tell couples we work with not to engage in difficult conversations when they are emotionally dysregulated. We also say to return to the topic when they are both emotionally stable. Revisiting the conversation is essential for understanding to deepen.

Coming back together and revisiting the conversation often doesn’t happen because people don’t want to spoil the good feeling by bringing up a charged topic that might result in an upset. Wishing to avoid further disturbance is understandable, but if emotional dysregulation happens again, it is okay to pause the conversation and return to it later. It doesn’t matter how many tries it takes. What matters is that the attempts are made.

Learning to listen to our partners with open hearts and minds is a learning curve. And being on a learning curve is okay. Humans tend to be sensitive and have difficulty listening when there is an emotional charge behind words because of our filters of thought that are chronic and invisible. We learn to use these filters to try and navigate the world, so we suffer less, but they often get in the way of us seeing things clearly and neutrally.

When Angus and I were having our challenge with each other, I wanted him to hear how I felt. It didn’t matter that I knew I was feeling my thinking; I wanted him to understand how I was feeling. But instead, he thought I wanted an apology and became defensive because of his thinking.

We were engaged in a conversation where we were defending ourselves and trying to justify why we were right and the other person wasn’t. When in truth, we were both right and we were both wrong. We were right because our experiences were real, and our hurt was genuine. We were wrong because neither of us could hear the other person’s experience without making it mean something about us. But, unfortunately, because of our conditioning, we polarized into our corners and the entrenched way we saw things.

I wanted him to acknowledge that he had said something insensitive. He tried to justify why he wasn’t bad because he said something insensitive. We both agreed on that part. I never thought he was terrible because of what he said. I wanted him to understand my experience. And he never thought what he said was okay, but he wanted me to understand he wasn’t bad because he said something insensitive. We agreed on the main point but couldn’t hear it through our hurt feelings. The feelings had nothing to do with the present moment. The hurt arose due to misunderstandings about ourselves in the past.

But the fear of stirring up the hurt didn’t stop us from revisiting the conversation.

It was worth feeling the feelings and sticking with the conversation even though we both got emotionally dysregulated and needed to settle and return to the discussion. We then found ourselves emotionally dysregulated again and needing to return to the conversation again. We may be slow learners, but I am glad we persevered until we could truly hear each other.

What we didn’t do at any point was say this is just your thinking. The implication is you should get over it. Instead, we understood that even the hurt was coming from our thoughts and that the pain was real. Just because the hurt comes from thought doesn’t change the fact that suffering happens when we get caught up in our painful, limiting beliefs. And as partners, we do want to understand and support each other when we hurt and learn to get better at not treading on the tender parts of each other’s psyche.

Angus understands my frailties and considers them when he can, and I do the same for him. Staying with this conversation to completion helped us to understand each other more so we could see how we could be even kinder to each other than we have been.

It is okay to say to him that I feel hurt after him saying something, not because he is responsible for my experience but because it is helpful for him to understand my experience. It is okay for him to tell me it feels like I am judging so that I can understand his need for reassurance in those moments.

Understanding is helping us be more kind to each other. A gentleness is showing up. A softness as we recognize our humanity. A sensitivity to our frailties that makes room for them in our relationship. A welcoming of our humanness with warmth and open arms.

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