Recently, an important person was accused of using vulgar language to talk about a couple groups of people. Whatever your political persuasion, whether you are for or against or in the middle about someone is not the point here: the results are. In couples therapy, couples often get into arguments about who said what (as did the different people who were present at the event mentioned above, different people often have different memories of what was said). When a couple in therapy start to argue about what they remember, I will often listen for a bit to see what is going on, but I also often stop them from arguing about their memories—none of us are that good at remembering, none of our memories are that perfect. And, more importantly, what comes out of the conversation is often more important than any one word that was said. How people feel about and remember what they heard (not necessarily what was said) often has the most lasting influence. With a couple in couples therapy, I will try to move them to what they took from the conflict or conversation. Then we will try to find out what was meant by the words and the responses. We will clarify and look at what was really meant.
In a relationship, if both partners are willing to work on his or her own issues, are willing to work to listen to what the other meant and is feeling and thinking, we almost always make progress. Usually, the partners got stuck, caught in the language, caught by what they thought was said or meant by the other. But without clarifying what was meant, without honest conversation about what both parties mean and are feeling and thinking, we get lost with what really happened, what someone really said or really meant. Fortunately, it is easier for a couple (though it is difficult to accomplish without practice) to work through what was said and meant than for a group of people to do.
So have hope: you and your partner can work on what you really say and mean to each other, you can move to not worrying so much about exactly what was said but to what was meant, you can move towards clarity with each other. And you can work towards a healthier relationship.
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