When you or a loved one is having a serious health concern or crisis, in the stress and the demands of the health problem sometimes you and your partner end up feeling like you’re not on the same team. This is a time when you really want to be able to come together to support each other. In this video I’m sharing some ideas about how you and your partner can talk together so you feel closer, more connected, and on the same team.
I wanted to share some quick ideas about how you and your partner can sit and talk. One thing that you do have to do is find and
Make time to talk
Maybe that might be in a waiting room together where you can talk rather than reading the news. Perhaps you can talk while you’re cooking or washing the dishes, but you do have to make some time to talk.
When we’re in the middle of a health concern or a health crisis a lot of the time and our energy is focused on getting things done, making decisions, checking things off our list, but really one of the things we need the most from our partner is understanding and support way before we get to what to do, what decisions to make, what steps to take.
When you and your partner can make some time to talk, I recommend that you
Take turns talking about what your concerns are one at a time
Have the other person repeat back what they hear
The goal: to be sure that each of you feel heard and understood
It is so valuable when we each feel heard and understood. When we feel heard and understood by our partner, we feel closer and more connected with them and we feel more like a team.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Suppose I’m ill and I’m worried. I want to be able to say to my partner “I’m really scared that something bad is going on with my health. I can’t figure out what it is and I’m very frightened.”
Then I would want my partner to say back to me… nothing fancy… just repeat back what they heard me say “Honey, I hear you saying that you’re really scared. You’re telling me that you don’t know what’s going on with your health and you’re scared that something bad is going on.”
Then my partner can say, “Did I get that right?”
Or I can say, “Yeah, thank you. You got that. Thank you.”
Or if my partner didn’t quite repeated back the way I meant it, or I thought I said it, or wanted to say it, or if hearing my words back to me makes me realize that there’s something else that I meant to say, then I will just go on and correct that. I could say “Thank you, but actually what I really wanted to say is part of me is very scared and part of me is hopeful,” and then my partner would repeat back, “I’m hearing you say that part of you is scared and part of you as hopeful. Did I get that right?” And I would say, “Yeah, thank you.”
My example here is very, very brief. Most people have quite a bit to say, so you would keep talking and have your partner just purely repeat back what they heard you say, and then the final thing before you’re ready to switch turns is
Your partner should say to you
What makes sense in what you just said
Given who you are
So if it was me talking, I need to hear my partner say to me, “Wow, Sarah it really make sense what you’re telling me about what you’re feeling or what you’re thinking given that you you’ve been feeling bad and you haven’t been getting any answers” and that type of thing.
My partner doesn’t have to agree with me. My partner doesn’t have to necessarily share my concerns or my fears or my thoughts, but it is so important for us as a team that my partner can see that I am making some sense from my perspective.
Then once my partner tells me that, most people feel a tremendous sense of relief and connection with their partner. “Wow. Thank you. You got it. Yeah, that’s exactly what’s going on with me. Thank you so much.” With that relief of feeling heard and understood, almost always people are ready to switch.
“Now I want to hear what’s going on with you. What are your thoughts or feelings or concerns about this health crisis that we’re facing as a team?” Then it’s going to be my job to listen to you very carefully and just repeat back what I’m hearing you say,
Take turns one at a time
with the listener just repeating back what they’re hearing the speaker say
At the end when the speaker’s done, the listener should summarize and validate
“Wow. What you’re saying really makes sense for where you’re coming from. If I was in your shoes, if I was actually you, it sure makes sense to me that you’re feeling this way and thinking that way and wanting this.” Then switch roles and do the same thing.
You don’t have to agree
You don’t have to believe the same thing. You can understand what someone else was saying, you can listen to what someone else is saying without needing to feel pressure that now, since you said you understand it, that now you have to agree with that. It’s not that way.
Notice, this takes a lot of care, only listening to one person’s thoughts and feelings at a time. Once you each truly feel heard and understood, then it’s the time to start talking nicely about disagreements or where to go from here.
Another idea that’s really important:
If you think your partner said something that was wrong
please don’t jump in and correct them in the beginning
Please just stick with saying what you heard them say. Don’t correct them because that’s going to probably set off an escalating conflict and you don’t need that when you’re there to try to support each other. So here’s what I mean.
Let’s say for example, I say “I’m really worried I’m going to die because I’ve heard that people who feel the way I feel all end up dead within a year.”
Please don’t jump in and correct me and tell me “that’s not true.” Or “Where did you hear that?” Or “You’re making that up,” or “You’re listening to scare tactics.”
Leave all of that aside until after I feel completely heard and understood, and after you have a chance to talk. Then you can go back and ask me, “Hey honey, I heard you say that you’re afraid you’re going to die and that everybody dies who feels this way? That’s not my understanding of what we’ve heard from the doctor” or something like that. Now it’s your chance to maybe to challenge me or to bring up your recollection or your understanding, but please save that till the next phase.
We each really want to be heard and understood for our fears, so if my fear is coming from something that maybe I’m exaggerating, it makes sense. I’m afraid if I’m exaggerating in that way and I need to feel heard for that fear and not corrected and told I’m wrong.
When you hear and understand each other
You feel closer, more connected, and you feel like a team
This is so helpful and valuable when we’re trying to get through a medical crisis together.
I encourage you and your partner to really set some time aside that you can find to talk together.
Watch this video together again so you’re ready with the steps that you know that you’re planning to take. Have an agreement together. Don’t just expect this will happen, but say to each other, “Hey, remember in that video from Dr. Sarah Rattray? Let’s talk in that way. How about we give that a try? Let’s take turns speaking and let’s have the other person listen and repeat back what they’re hearing.”
I wish you and your partner the best and I know that whatever you’re facing
It’s better when you’re facing it together
Every couple has a door between them. How open is yours?
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Hi there I'm Dr Sarah Rattray
For over 30 years I've helped couples get closer and more connected by strengthening your communication. I'm known for my wise, grounded, caring energy, and for providing clear, practical steps you can take right away to improve the way you talk with each other.