For years Aaron and his wife, Vikki, had been locked in an emotional firestorm that showed no signs of burning out. In recent months Vicki had been practicing Real Love with some success, but Aaron had adamantly refused to participate in any way.
Aaron called me and said, "I just don't understand her." He sounded quite exasperated.
"I'm sure you don't," I said.
Missing entirely the effect of my left jab on his chin, he continued. "She's pushing me to see a Real Love coach, and I'm not ready for that."
"You might be right about her pushing you, or—in your own words—it may simply be that you don't understand her. It may be that you don't understand what she's saying or doing. Would you like some help?"
"Exactly what did she do?"
"She made an appointment for us to meet with a Real Love coach, and I wasn't ready for that. She was pushing me."
"Maybe. You're already making a judgment about her behavior when it's possible that you have simply mistranslated it."
"How long as your marriage been a disaster?"
"Long time. Many years."
"You've been to counselors before, yes?"
"Not a bit."
"So out of the blue, she suddenly schedules you two for a session with a Real Love coach? Not likely. She almost had to be responding to something that happened or to something you said. Did you indicate some new interest in Real Love?"
"Well, I did notice that she's been happier lately. So I thought, Maybe if this is working for her, I could at least read one of the books. So I told her that I'd read the Real Love in Marriage book, and then maybe we could talk to a coach. But it's not like I made a promise or anything."
"So then she made an appointment, and you felt pressured."
"Not a problem. You were just deaf. You didn't hear what she was really saying. You heard her telling you that you had to do something, that she was pushing you, right?"
"Would you like to know what she was really saying?"
"Your marriage has been terrible for a long time, and she's been miserable. She's hated it, you've hated it, it's been a living hell."
"And then she starts doing Real Love, and for the first time in many years she feels a little happiness, even a little hope. With me so far?"
"And she's made this significant progress on her own, without your participation. That's pretty good work on her part. Then you told her that you'd be willing to read the marriage book. How exactly did you think she'd take that? She was like a kid at Christmas. Woo-hoo!! She was very excited. But you said even more than that. You mentioned that you might even be willing to see a Real Love coach. At that point she was positively giddy. So what she was really saying was, Aaron, I'm so excited that there's a possibility that we'll be working toward being closer to each other that I can hardly stand it."
"But I didn't say that I'd see a coach."
"I know that, but you're not listening to me, just like you didn't listen to her. You're too afraid that you're being pressured—you're thinking of yourself—instead of really hearing what she's saying, which is that she still cares enough about you to get excited about doing something with you. When was the last time she was this excited about being with you?"
"So shut up and listen to the real message instead of getting all defensive."
When we become afraid, we can't hear what other people are saying, and then we miss wonderful opportunities to feel loved or to be loving. Our relationships become so much more rewarding when we focus on the needs and fears of the other person, instead of being blinded by our own needs and fears.
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