How to unlock relationship struggles: Truly hear what your partner needs and wants.
Quick review for reference
Since the beginning of the year, we examined 2 of the 3 roles inside your relationship: Remember my relationship framework Partner, Lover, Friend? The Partner strives to achieve, The Lover is excited for adventure, and The Friend seeks true companionship by sharing stories.
In episode 11 we looked at how Your Inner Lover knows what you WANT.
When you let Your Inner Lover truly receive all that you want, that little 4-year-old inside you—the animal body we all have—is tame and contented.
In episode 13 we examined how your relationship can fall prey to an icky dynamic of spoiled child and domineering parent when the NEEDs of your relationship are neglected in favor of all those loverly WANTs.
Finally, in episode 14 we looked at the intersection of those needs and wants to uncover your hidden dreams. The Partner is the one who can turn those dreams into reality if you understand how to ask for their help.
The Friend in your relationship
In today’s episode (and next week’s as well) our focus will move to The Friend in your relationship. When Your Inner Friend is well tended, you feel true companionship. You know where you belong, and you can rest easily because you’ve found a home where your secrets are known and treasured.
Your Inner Lover’s power is to let you know what you WANT and to help you truly RECEIVE that.
Your Inner Partner’s power is to provide what you NEED and to keep you SAFE.
Now we’ll look at your Inner Friend who communicates clearly about both needs and wants and gives you a sense of home and belonging in your relationship.
The two skills that allow Your Inner Friend to wake up to your fullest potential are listening and revelation. Today, we’ll concentrate on listening, though, as you’ll see, the two skills are a matched pair. So it’s tough to talk about one without talking about them both.
Remember last week (in episode 14) when my client and his wife were arguing about what was for dinner and we discovered 2 key hidden dreams my client had:
- #1 was to feed his family nutritious food
- & #2 was to sit down together with his family.
Think of Your Inner Friend as a secret locator. When you listen to Your Inner Friend, you discover your inner dreams and goals. Then you can use the Friend’s other skill: revelation as you reveal those secrets to your spouse so they know what’s most important to you.
The Friend has a huge impact on both The Lover and The Partner. The Lover and Partner are often at odds with each other because The Lover craves adventure and excitement while The Partner’s job is to keep you safe and secure.
The Friend negotiates the space between the two, helping The Partner to lighten up when they have too many rules; or to reign in The Lover when they disregard how much time and attention to detail it takes to make a dream come true.
Why life—and in this case kayaking—makes it hard to hear in your relationship
My story today starts at the very beginning of my marriage—35 years ago—when my husband fell in love with kayaking.
As with most young couples we tangled over time spent together vs time spent away with each of our friends. David and two of his high school buddies decided they wanted to learn to kayak, so they went to The Boulder Outdoor Center and took a 3-day class to learn the basics of floating around on rivers.
It wasn’t long before most weekends my husband was busy kayaking with a band of friends from the kayaking school and, if I went along, I was the shuttle bunny helping ferry the trucks from the top of the river run to the bottom.
I got bored quickly, took my own 3-day class and started kayaking down rivers. Except that I had none of the drive to keep up. I’m not a thrill seeker. I had to psyche myself up just to paddle straight down the middle of small rapids. I wasn’t one of those boaters jumping in and out of holes to get bucked around by the waves.
I would sit in the eddy on the sidelines as a line of kayakers jumped in and out of the river holes. “Did you see that ender?”
“My boat was completely submerged!”
“The eddy line totally caught me on that one.” Like all sports, kayaking has its own language.
David ferried his way to the middle of the river and I’d watch as the nose of his boat fell into the hole and the water grabbed his whole kayak. Up came his paddle to brace, as his whole face lit up with glee.
Hi-fives and sexy smiles
After the river spit my husband out, and flipped his kayak upside down, David rolled, looking sexy and thrilled.
Hi-fiving everyone as he emerged, he’d jump back into the line of kayakers to try again.
Person after person would urge me to jump into the hole, but I demurred, “No thanks,” I’d say, happy to wait on the sidelines.
Except that I wasn’t completely happy. I felt like I was missing out, but I didn’t know how to jump in with confidence.
On top of that, I felt like David was ignoring me. I came out here to be with you and you aren’t even paying attention to me! I thought.
Classic relationship conundrum: The Partner & the Lover
As the months went on, he explored harder and harder rivers. “Wanna come?” he’d say, but these were expeditions where I was never going to keep up, so I made up an excuse and didn’t go.
When David wasn’t kayaking a river, we explored the Colorado mountains together. But our expeditions were always a tamer version of adventure. It was a domesticated version of my husband who hiked beside me. He wasn’t flashing that sexy, thrilled smile.
I wanted to be brave enough to paddle the raging rivers, but on the rare occasions I joined him, I was edgy and critical because I was so scared. On the days I didn’t join him, I felt lonely and left behind. Bored and boring.
This is the classic conundrum between The Lover and The Partner. The Lover seeks adventure and The Partner wants to keep you safe. You don’t need your spouse to be on one side for you to take the other. As you can see, My Inner Lover longed to join David on the river, but My Inner Partner was terrified and her terror ruined the adventure for me even when I went along.
I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I wanted to hide.
When you feel left behind, or scared, or embarrassed, how do you treat your spouse?
I began to feel like David wanted something else more than he wanted me. Why doesn’t he choose me? I thought. Why is he always leaving me?
Sometimes I was clingy and insecure. The minute he came home I surrounded him with questions and offers to help.
Other times I was punishing and temperamental. When he started to help with dishes, I’d wave him off, “I’m used to doing it by myself.” By not allowing him to join in the help, I reinforced my martyr status.
Have you ever had any of these feelings? Have you ever sensed these feelings from your spouse?
Why the change?
When The Partner and The Lover are at odds, it feels like a fiery war inside you. You fight and feel desperate. You can’t see clearly. Your breath gets tight. And it feels like you can’t escape.
These feelings permeated my relationship with David, sometimes raging and destructive, other times smoldering under the surface.
But then one day we were hiking together up above tree line in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. We were outside. Together. But there was no thrill seeking. The pace was slow.
The wildflowers were abundant and I kept pausing to take a photo of the Indian Paintbrush and Columbine that were my mother’s favorites.
I could hear my husband’s footfalls behind me, but he didn’t say much. He’s a quiet person by nature, and, as I mentioned, when we hiked together, he seemed to get even more quiet. This day, however, his silence felt companionable.
He seemed happy to listen to me talk about my mother and the flowers, because each time I slowed us down to take a photo, he’d lean his pack against a rock and let gravity welcome him to sit.
What sweaty dude will save your relationship?
During one of these wildflower pauses, a couple came charging past us. The dude—a guy in his twenties, bandanaed and stinky with sweat—was hiking at a racing pace. A woman, scrambling after him was falling further and further behind.
Suddenly the dude stopped and yelled, “If we’re gonna make it to the top before the storm we’re gonna have to pick up the pace.” That’s when the woman sat down right there. Right in the middle of my mom’s favorite flowers. She opened her pack and got out a snack.
“What are you doing?” cried the dude.
“I’m eating a snack,” she said. “I’m done.” And it looked to me like she wasn’t just done with this particular hike.
He tightened his pack, turned his back on her and headed further up the trail, leaving her in his dust.
David and I continued at our snail’s pace. I pointed to the ridge just above us. A singular puffy white cloud in the vast Colorado blue sky provided a pillow of backdrop for a field of purple lupins. “Isn’t that gorgeous?” I asked the silent footfalls behind me.
And my husband grabbed my hand.
“I never want to do that to you,” he said.
“Do what?” I asked.
“I never want to be the guy who walks away and leaves you on the side of a mountain.”
I was lost. “You would never, ever treat me that way,” I said.
“But that’s why it’s such a hard choice for me when I go kayaking or climbing,” he said. “My worst nightmare is being like that dude who just passed us. To value the top of a mountain more than the love of my life?! What a dick-move.”
“David,” I said aghast, “I can’t even imagine you doing something like that.”
“But I get in that zone. When I’m doing something that’s hard for me, I lose my focus and all I can see is the goal.”
At that moment, my entire relationship opened up, as vast at that gorgeous blue sky.
The internal tug of war between Partner and Lover in your relationship
David was having the same tug of war inside him when he left me to go to the mountains as I was having staying behind. His Inner Lover wanted the adventure and the thrill, but his Inner Partner wanted to nurture me and keep our relationship safe.
I had no idea he ever battled with, Should I stay or should I go? thoughts the way I did.
This is when I realized the power of The Friend.
It would be impossible for David to treat me the way this dude treated the snacking woman. David is the kindest most gentle person I know. Yet somewhere inside of him, meanness was his fear.
Suddenly I began to question the part of me where the fire of shame and embarrassment was burning.
I could hear a clear conversation in my own head between my Inner Partner and my Inner Lover. Each time my Inner Lover was trying to get me to kayak a river that was beyond my ability, I felt grateful to my Inner Partner who applied the brakes and kept me home.
Each time my Inner Partner was fearful and trying to come up with excuse after excuse not to go have fun, I felt grateful to my Inner Lover who climbed into my kayak skirt and shoved off the river bank to dive into the wave train.
When I listened to the wisdom both of these inner voices—Partner and Lover—brought to my life, the fiery war ceased. I felt the thrill of excitement mix with a foundation of safety. I felt at ease inside my own skin.
Magically, I could hear conversations from our past differently as well.
Re-see your relationship memories
I saw myself in the line of kayakers who were jumping in and out of the ender-hole. Person after person nudging me to paddle into the tumultuous wave, but there was my husband, quietly smiling at me.
He wasn’t ignoring me with his silence as I originally felt.
I actually remembered the moment in the river differently and, when I saw the flash of his sexy and thrilled smile, I felt glad to be with him. He wasn’t ignoring me. He was extending his quiet grin to me as an assurance, “You do what you want,” was the message, “I’m just glad you came so I didn’t have to choose between adventure and the security of our relationship.”
Suddenly I went from feeling left out—because he wanted something ELSE more than he wanted me—to feeling cherished—because he valued our relationship so highly.
I no longer saw his calm mountain demeanor with me as “bored.” Those quiet footsteps behind me? I realized my mere presence brought him deep, quiet relaxation and contentment.
What is your spouse saying that you can’t hear?
Is your spouse inviting you to join them but you can’t hear their invitation because you’re scared? Are your spouse’s words drowned out by the fiery war burning inside you? Is your Inner Lover begging you for adventure, but your Inner Partner is scared and trying to keep you safe?
When you’re conflicted inside, it’s easy to hear things your spouse doesn’t say, and it’s challenging to hear your spouse’s invitations to join them.
Everyone who’s ever sat in my office experiences this. We all have an inner war raging.
In moments like this call upon your Inner Friend who has compassion for both you and your spouse. Compassion will calm the war inside you.
Compassion: the relationship healer
The instant David told me the struggle he was having and how he didn’t want to be a dick like Mr. Bandana who had to race to the summit, I understood him in a whole new way.
You have an Inner Friend who knows about your hidden dreams for adventure. You have an Inner Friend who understands your deepest fears. That Inner Friend wants to know your secrets.
The first person you need to listen to is yourself. You need to STAY with your longings and desires. And you need to STAY with your fears, respecting the message they’re sending you.
One of the coolest things about a very intimate marriage is that it keeps inviting you to know yourself first. Until you listen to yourself first, you won’t ever be able to hear your spouse.
The Lover in your relationship—either Your Inner Lover or your spouse’s Lover—will want adventure and novelty. The Partner in your relationship—either Your Inner Partner or your spouse’s Partner—will crave security and predictability.
When they arrive together and start a fire inside your head or inside your relationship, invite The Friend who wants to understand. The Friend who wants to know what motivates you.
The Friend wants to stay until they understand what’s happening in your relationship
When I listened to this Inner Friend, I could see the river feed David’s adventurous spirit. One look at that thrilled and sexy smile said it all.
When I listened to the voice of the Inner Friend I could see from David’s perspective that going without me was a choice he made to keep our relationship secure. So he’d never be tempted to choose racing to the summit over enjoying time with me.
You will listen best if you stay.
Stay tuned into yourself rather than imagining what your spouse thinks for feels.
Stay with what feels like a raging war of contradictions inside yourself.
Stay for the long haul. Time is a great revealer. We hear things differently over time as we get to know all the hidden dreams, and fears, and complications that make up our spouse.
Stay so you can listen to yourself. Stay so you can hear your spouse.
Hunt for your hidden dreams
This week’s habit for your happily ever after is to go on a hunt for your hidden dreams.
Could you tell in my story about kayaking that I have deep compassion for the part of me that’s afraid to jump into the river waves and get tossed about?
That compassion for myself only came because I was willing to feel my embarrassment wash over me. Feelings you resist will only persist, right?
So today’s habit is to stop the resistance. Today I invite you to FEEL the embarrassment. Feel the shame. Feel the resentment.
Because your dreams are hiding on the other side of these fears.
Relationship & worthiness
After you locate the feeling of embarrassment, shame, or resentment, like a kind friend, I invite you to talk to yourself about why you’re still worthy and lovable even in the moment you’re embarrassed, ashamed, or resentful.
I felt my embarrassment: I’m not an athlete. I’m not one of the cool kids. I saw myself trying, trying, trying to be brave. And I watched how I didn’t want to enter that wave in the middle of the river that was tossing everyone out.
I was totally happy watching, though. What truly makes me happy is telling stories.
Tuning into my true desire in that eddy on the river I saw how much fun I was. I cheered for everyone. I laughed. I splashed. I filled in the narrative as everyone else dove into the wave.
When you see your true desire and dreams, you’ll see your unique place on planet earth.
You’ll fit into your own life rather than fitting into an idea of who you’re supposed to be. I didn’t have to be a fabulous kayaker in order to be a fabulous human being.
Relationship killer: dreams that hide behind your fears
Here’s a couple questions to help you explore and find your dreams hiding behind your fear.
- When have you been embarrassed?
- When have you felt scared and forced to the sidelines?
- When were you quick to blame?
Bring your compassion as you go on an exploration into your history.
If you were embarrassed, articulate what you wish you’d done. What dream does that wish imply? Now question, is that a real dream for you? Or is it an imposter dream given to you by someone else?
When have you felt scared? List all the ways you felt left out as you sat on the sidelines. What dream does all that fear imply for your life?
When are you most likely to blame? What are your words and accusations? Now ask, if you were to do and be all the things you find fault with, how would your life be different? What dream is hiding for you in that difference?
When you see your hidden dreams, you’re able to ask clearly for what you want. Clarity is a key element of your happily ever after. And it’s what the Friend is best at because the Friend wants to understand all the complications inside you.
Date Night Discussion
Today’s discussion will help you to hear your spouse better.
This week let your Inner Friend lead the way—searching for compassion and understanding—as you have a conversation with your spouse’s Inner Partner or your spouse’s Inner Lover.
Remember the premise to stay. Stay open. Stay curious. Stay generous.
If you feel triggered by the conversation and you notice your ability to stay open, curious and generous leave you, then pause the conversation. It’s OK to get triggered. The Partner and the Lover and the conflicts they cause have probably hurt your feelings in your relationship.
The Friend is patient. It’s OK to say, “Oops! I just ran out of compassion. Let’s pause this conversation until my tank fills back up.” This keeps you from wounding each other as you hash over the same arguments.
Do you feel overworked by your spouse’s Inner Partner? There’s always a task to do and you can’t keep up? Or maybe you feel ignored by your spouse’s Inner Lover. You feel left out or lonely.
These are the ideal places in your relationship to invite the Friend to come front and center in your relationship.
Then get curious. You can’t feign curiosity. It needs to be genuine. You need a real desire to understand the situation from your spouse’s point of view. Then continue talking to your spouse:
“When you make the choice to ____, my feelings get hurt. I know you don’t want to hurt me. So I want to understand your motivation. Can you tell me about your choice to ____?
“If you didn’t do ____ what are you afraid might happen? Or what dream gets quenched inside you when you ____?”
The Friend helps connect you as you navigate those tricky parts of your relationship where you are navigating the tension between Lover and Partner.
Stay curious in your relationship
Stay in your own business even as you’re curious about your spouse.
Then stay for the whole conversation.
Social psychologist, Dacher Keltner, has a big influence on me when it comes to listening with more than just our ears. Want to explore his work? Click here.
Want to listen to my podcast about this topic? Click here.