It’s called “Crossing the Bridge”……..

I see many couples who are arguing and feel that they are just not being heard or understood. So this is a common problem.  We all “hear” through our filters and the way we see the world. Someone who grew up with a critical parent may be more sensitive to the hint of criticism.  Someone who feels they are never really seen or heard, may be particularly sensitive if they feel theeir partner is not seeing or hearing them.  Arguments and hurt usually follows if one partner feels under attack or not understood.

If you are hearing your partner’s upset or criticism or complaint or disturbance as an ATTACK or ASSAULT, you will probably REACT almost 100% of the time with a defense.  The brain, when “threatened”, quickly “flips” into self-protective mode and this defense structure “hijacks” the conscious mind (cerebral cortex). When in defensive mode, we are incapable of empathy as our partner, in that moment, is registered as “dangerous”.  So, in this case there is no room for actually having any kind of productive dialog because it usually ends in someone leaving/avoidance or someone yelling or being upset.

Recent brain research studies show that the most potentially effective and powerful way of accessing understanding and cooperation by someone whom we are bonded emotionally is “revealing vulnerability in an authentic manner”.

Reactivity, judgment, disapproval and anger can be replaced with empathy.  Understanding your partner’s world view and their filters as well as past history is important in creating that understanding.

If you have as your intention that you are consiously going to “cross the bridge” desiring to be open and curious about the other’s (your partner’s) country (view of the world) you have a chance at opening up dialog, reducing arguments, and enhancing your communication with your partner.  Or, you could be closed and attached to our own reality (view of the situation, the world) as the only one that can exist.

If your need is to prove your point of view, correct your partner, prove your innocence, and interpret your partner’s reality as having no value, the message will likely be received as, “Your reality is meaningless to me. I am right. You are wrong”. Intimacy, closeness, and connection cannot exist in this climate.

In a more productive and caring dialogue, one person listens to their partner’s perspective, while putting their own judgments and concerns on hold for a few moments.

So, you might imagine that you are crossing a bridge into your partner’s world, recognizing that it is very different from your own.

In your partner’s world or from their perspective, you may find that everything your partner is saying makes sense, even though it might not make sense from your own world view. This is very different than one partner delivering a monologue, while the other partner is making judgments based on their own worldview and projections.

There is a Process that can help

You decide that you are going to have a conversation about something that is bothering you and you and your partner decide that you are going to have a productive, caring conversation where one partner is going to listen to the other, crossing the bridge into that partner’s worldview so they can really understand what their partner is trying to communicate.

So, one partner shares his or her world view, while the other partner reflects back understanding and empathy.   The receiving partner tells the communicating partner what they are hearing ….what is really being said and communicated.  And, that receiving partner can ask questions like, “is that what you mean?” and “is there more?”   These deceptively simple phrases powerfully reinforce the sense of connection, and invite the sender to take a moment to become more aware of their own thoughts and feelings, and to feel safe to share them.

The dialogue becomes much more powerful when the receiving partner also made a statement to validate the sender’s perspective.  Validation requires one to look back through the eyes of the other, to see the world as it appears to him or her, and to understand the logic of the other person’s point of view. Furthermore it requires suspending judgment about the sensibility of the other’s world and the accuracy of his or her logic, simply accepting that the other’s perception of the world is as valid as one’s own.   So, you might say, “I can understand how my not telling you when I was coming home would be upsetting”.  That is an example of a validating statement.  It feels good.  It lets your partner know they have been heard.

Each partner gets an opportunity to communicate using this process.  It doesn’t have to be formal although if you have never done this before you can start by doing it in a really formal or structured way.

Crossing the bridge is an expression coined by Imago Therapists.   It is a way to bridge the gap —because in every marriage or relationship, each person has their own world view, opinions and needs.  It is a way to reduce arguments that get triggered immediately by you or your partner getting defensive or angry.  Give it a try.