Misunderstandings aren’t uncommon when communicating with your Significant Other, but sometimes, she may be so overwhelmed with anger, frustration, or disappointment that she can’t express what she really feels and you’re left having to decipher her cryptic (and often catty or cutting) one-liners.
But instead of getting defensive or starting an argument, it’s important to show patience, love, care and compassion (yes, even if she’s upset with you). She may not be able to say what she wants to say at that particular moment, but if you give her the space and time to collect her thoughts and remind her that you care about her feelings, she’ll see that it’s okay to communicate directly and authentically with you.
Here’s how to respond to — and support — your partner when she’s having difficulty fully expressing herself.
When she says: “We need to talk.”
It may mean: “I’m not happy about something and I want to talk so you’d better listen.”
How to respond: “She’s likely distressed by an unresolved incident, concern or unmet need in the relationship and wants to openly address it with you,” says Wong Hui Yu, a counsellor at Sofia Wellness Clinic.
“This can be a tough line to hear, but see if you can approach her with curiosity by validating her intention, clarifying her concerns, and exploring how you can address the issue together. For example, you can say: ‘It sounds like something has upset you and you want to talk about it – would you like to plan some time for it?’.”
When she says: “Are you even listening to me?”
It may mean: “I’ve explained myself so many times but you don’t seem to get it.”
How to respond: She might be feeling misunderstood, neglected, or not cared for (that is, the attention you’re giving her may not be satisfactory in her eyes), says Marcus Lee, a counsellor at A Kind Place.
Give her your full attention and make eye contact with her. Then say something like, “I’m sorry, dear. Can you share what you said with me again? I admit that I was probably not listening to you earlier, but you’ve got all my attention now.”
When she says: “It doesn’t even matter now, anyway.”
It may mean: “It still matters and I’d like to discuss it but I don’t know how.”
How to respond: A previous issue might have been left without sufficient closure, and she may feel disempowered to confront it directly.
“She may be yearning for understanding but is afraid to be vulnerable, leading to a roundabout ‘test’ to receive your validation without openly asking for it,” Hui Yu explains.
“Try to meet her insecurity with care and patience, letting her know that it’s safe to share her feelings. You could say, ‘This issue matters to me and I want to hear how you truly feel about it’.”
Here are more tips on how to support your partner and help her deal with stress.
When she says: “We’ll talk about this later.”
It may mean: “I cannot continue this conversation with you otherwise I know I’ll do or say something that I might regret.”
How to respond: The underlying emotion and intention behind her statement may vary depending on the circumstances and her mood or personality, says Marcus.
“It could be a literal statement or it could carry an undertone of sorts. Either way, at this point, your partner is aware that she’s feeling overwhelmed, possibly frustrated, or even hurt. She may need emotional reassurance from you.”
What you can do is tell her you love her or extend a comforting touch, such as a hug. It’s important to note that it’s a good sign when she asks to talk about it later rather than just stonewalling you.
As a response, you could say: “I understand and respect your decision to continue this conversation later. Let me know when you’re feeling better. I still love you and will be waiting for you when you’re ready to talk”. Check in with her after half an hour to see if she’s ready to have a conversation with you.
When she says: “Whatever, I’m over it.”
It may mean: “No, I’m not over it but I don’t know how to communicate what I’m feeling without losing it completely.”
How to respond: It sounds like she’s carrying lingering resentment over an unresolved conflict but is expressing it in a roundabout, rather than direct, way, Hui Yu points out.
Often, a sense of helplessness and a belief that direct confrontation will not be effective underlie passive-aggressive behaviour. In such instances, offer compassion and assure her that you’re there to listen nonjudgmentally if she’s still upset. This can sound like, ‘It seems like we didn’t fully resolve what happened and I’m wondering what’s on your mind’.”
When she says: “What do you care, anyway?”
It may mean: “You can be insensitive sometimes, and I don’t feel like you care at all.”
How to respond: She may be feeling underappreciated, neglected or even abandoned. In this scenario, Marcus says it’s a good idea to apologise first.
“Tell her you’re sorry and then hug and kiss her and say, ‘See, I’m caring for you’. When the mood is a bit lighter, you can say, ‘I know you don’t feel cared for and I’m sorry you feel that way. I do care but maybe I’m not showing it too well. What can I do to show you that I care?’.”
When she says: “I’m not angry, but…”
It may mean: “This is obviously a problem and I’m struggling with how I feel about it.”
How to respond: Your partner may be more dissatisfied – rather than angry – with the current state of affairs, or she may be struggling to come to terms with how she feels and thinks about the situation, Marcus points out.
She could be frustrated, hurt or upset but wants to diffuse it or try to discuss her feelings in a calmer manner. She’s trying to express herself and let you know that this is something she’s concerned with but that she doesn’t want you to feel overwhelmed by her emotions.
“You can choose to stay silent to let her process her thoughts and finish her sentence first. Otherwise, you can say ‘I understand that you’re not angry but I’m concerned because I know that something’s bothering you. Take your time to process your thoughts, because I’m here to listen and understand’.”
When she finally does open up to you, Marcus says it’s important to really listen to her.
When she says: “You always do that.”
It may mean: “That behaviour/action has long bothered me and I’m sick of it.”
How to respond: Generally, this is an expression of displeasure and frustration towards your behaviour, says Marcus. She may be communicating an observation of an unsatisfactory repeated behaviour or it may be a colloquial way of calling out any upsetting behaviour in the moment.
If you know the reason behind her frustration (that is, the behaviour that’s frustrating to her), decide what you’re willing to compromise for her. If you’re willing to change the behaviour, you could say, ‘Sorry, dear, it’s not my intention to do that. I understand that my behaviour can be frustrating. I’m trying to change and I hope that you can help me as I progress along this journey’.
If you’re not ready to change, Marcus says to be honest. You could say something like, “Sorry dear, I know that what I do frustrates you but it’s also something that I find difficult to change or get rid of completely. Nevertheless, I am still willing to work it out and meet you halfway’.”
When she says: “I need some space.”
It may mean: “I feel suffocated and trapped and need to get away to think about things.”
How to respond: This line can be anxiety-inducing as “space” is vague and abstract, and may sound like a rejection of your presence, says Hui Yu.
When faced with such a demand, see if you can approach her statement with some curiosity to help her clarify her meaning. Perhaps she wants time away to reflect more intentionally on an issue, or some alone time to recharge. You can reflect what you’re hearing from her and ask clarifying questions. This can sound like: “I’m hearing that you want some time for yourself. What does that look like for you? How can I support you in having the space you need?”
When she says: “I have nothing to say to you.”
It may mean: “Actually, I have a lot to say but I’m too angry right now to speak.”
How to respond: Choosing the strategy of silence may be her attempt at avoiding confrontation or “blowing up” when she’s flooded with emotions, Hui Yu says.
“She may be afraid she’ll say something she will later regret, or is too agitated to find the right words to express herself. In such cases, stay calm and offer her time and distance to cool down, reassuring her of your presence and desire to revisit the issue together when she’s had a chance to gather her thoughts. You could ask, ‘Would you like some time for yourself now? I’ll be here when you feel ready to talk about this again’.”
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