Seriously? Treat my partner like a child? Yes. And here’s why.
How do we communicate with children without fighting?
When we are being the best parent we can be, how do we treat our children? With unconditional love? Patience? Acceptance? Understanding? With TONS of hugs and kisses?
Somehow when it comes to our romantic relationships, we tend to lose some of this. Our love can become conditional when we are hurt or angry. Our patience is short. We stop accepting them for who they are, and instead expect them to change aspects of themselves that we don’t like. We no longer seek to understand what is really going on for them, rather, we mind-read and make assumptions. And when are relationship has surpassed infatuation, we certainly do not give as many hugs and kisses!
Now, if you still DO treat your partner in this loving way, GREAT. However, you may still benefit from reading on. Or, if your partner is abusive in any way shape or form, please, don’t feel like you need to love them unconditionally or accept them the way they are. Either get out, seek support to get out, or seriously strengthen your boundaries, protect yourself and don’t forget about self-care!
So how exactly can I communicate with my spouse without fighting?
Ok, so I am going to give you a scenario that relates to how we can communicate with our spouse as if they were a child. Here’s the scene:
Let’s say your five-year-old daughter starts crying for NO APPARENT REASON. She was happy two minutes ago, and now she is red in the face, has tears in her eyes, and is on the verge of what looks like a panic attack.
You run over to ask her “what’s the matter?” Your daughter crosses her arms and pouts, “nothing…” You press the issue and continue to ask her what’s wrong, only to get the cold shoulder. Looking across the room you realize that little Johnny has stolen a toy of hers that she doesn’t even like. Your automatic first thought may be that you think that this is ridiculous so you say, “Really? You’re upset about that dumb toy that you don’t even like? Who cares if Johnny plays with it. Look, you have your favorite toy right here!”
Does that help? Absolutely not. Why? Because it was invalidating. And why didn’t she just tell you to begin with when you asked what was wrong? Because she was scared of your invalidation! She, even at five years of age, knows that she is already in a vulnerable position, and the last thing she needs is to have to defend herself for having feelings about something that you find ridiculous. Of course, she probably won’t be able to articulate this, and will instead just cry harder.
Now to the important part: Validating your spouse’s feelings
What should you have done instead? Notice how she’s feeling, make your best guess as to why she’s feeling that way, and then VALIDATE VALIDATE VALIDATE! Instead of asking her what is wrong, try saying something like this: “I notice that you are feeling very sad and overwhelmed. I’m going to guess that it is because little Johnny took one of your toys, is that right?” She may then give a little pouty nod-still not fully trusting in where this is going-but much more open now that you’ve identified her struggle.
So you continue to validation by saying something like “Yeah, I can see why you’d be upset. It can be sad and frustrating when someone takes something of ours. And when they don’t even ask for permission, it can make us very angry as well. I totally understand how you are feeling. I get it. You have every right to feel the way you’re feeling.”
And this, is the SAME WAY we should talk to our partners. This type of scenario signals to our loved ones that we see them, we care, and we understand. We are not jumping the gun and trying to fix their problem, nor are we minimizing it, dismissing it, rolling our eyes at it, or ignoring it. We aren’t “staying out of it” and waiting for them to come to us with the thought of, “if they want my help/support, they should just tell me what’s wrong and ask for it”. When we are in an emotional state, we don’t always have that level of maturity to both identify and ask for our needs to be met. We may also fear a potentially bad response, which could just exacerbate the issue. What most of us really want, is for our loved ones to see our pain (even if you can’t comprehend it), and show that you care.
So please, everyone, try treating your spouse a little more like a child. A child for whom you adore, cherish, have patience for, want to understand, and accept for the wacky, emotional, funny-face makin’ little creatures that they are. If you can do this, you may start to see your relationship really blossom. Just don’t, however, try to tell your spouse when their bedtime is.
-Jessica Jane MS, MFT-I