Are You Banging Your Head Against a Wall?

Four strategies to help your partner when he or she just doesn't get it.

Posted Feb 17, 2019

If each person in a relationship is able to talk about how he or she is feeling, the relationship usually remains close and healthy. Yet, if a person expresses his or her true feelings and he or she is immediately dismissed or invalidated, the person may find themselves re-explaining, desperate to be understood. Continually having to clarify feelings that seem to “fall on deaf ears” often causes a person to feel like they are “banging their head against the wall.”

In addition, when a person is required to repeatedly re-explain how and what they are feeling because their partner isn’t getting it, they are often perceived as blowing things out of proportion or unable to let things go. Yet, the person simply wants to feel understood. If their partner “got it” the first time, bundles of energy, time, frustration, anger, and resentment may be avoided. The time spent in conflict and strife would probably be replaced with fun and play.

Keeping four concepts in mind can help a person increase their understanding of how their partner feels, putting an end to the “head-banging” dynamic in the relationship.   

1. Attempting to understand your partner’s perspective does not mean that you must surrender your own perspective. Most adults are capable of entertaining two competing perspectives. Simply set aside your viewpoint for a brief moment in order to see things through your partner’s eyes. This immediately conveys understanding, support, and respect.

For example, Diane does not want Dan to go on a snowmobiling trip with his colleagues. She believes snowmobiling is unsafe and is upset when Dan tells her he has already agreed to go. Instead of telling Diane the many reasons why he believes he should to go, he sets aside his own perspective for a minute to consider Diane’s, and says, “You are worried I’m going to get in an accident and get hurt. I understand. Your college friends almost died on a snowmobile. This hits close to home. I know you are worried.” After Dan conveys an understanding of Diane’s perspective, she feels understood and is probably more amenable to Dan’s decision to go.

2. Understanding the feeling doesn’t mean you have to agree with the perspective. You may not agree with your partner’s decision to quit his or her job, but you understand the dread they feel going to work every day. Saying, “I completely understand why you feel like quitting. Your boss is hostile and passive-aggressive. You don’t deserve that treatment, but are you sure you should quit?” In essence, the person isn’t necessarily agreeing with their partner’s decision, but they are understanding their partner’s feelings. This helps the partner feel understood and less alone which bodes well for the continued discussion.

3. The details of a disagreement don’t matter as much as the feeling. People spend gobs of time arguing endlessly about the details of a circumstance, but cutting to the chase and simply understanding the feeling is a great shortcut. Less communication is more in many situations.

For example, Suzie comes home upset about a conflict with a close friend. Her partner listens, but instead of asking for more details, he simply empathizes with how Suzie feels. “You feel so betrayed and hurt. I understand. I’m so sorry.” As soon as Suzie feels understood, she probably feels better and can move on more quickly.

4. Avoid fixing your partner’s problem initially. Instead, empathize with the emotion.

For example, say Gary discloses he is overwhelmed with anxiety about his relationship with his son. After hearing about the situation, his partner avoids giving him advice about how to fix the situation and instead says, “You are so worried. You are afraid you are losing your son. That is terrifying. I get it.” Gary feels understood, less alone, and more able to calmly think through the problem. At this juncture, helping Gary problem solve is beneficial.  

If a person rarely feels understood in their relationship, he or she may give up and stop expressing emotions. When a person stops communicating, distance and resentment creep into the relationship and the love and trust fades. Yet, with these strategies, a person can quickly learn how to better understand their partner. Feeling understood creates closeness, trust, and peace in the relationship—saving the head-banging for a Motley Crue concert instead.