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Revealing Assumptions: "Here's What I Make Up About That..."

Partners talking about their relationship

“Can I talk to you about something?…”

Talking to your partner about something that they have done that is bothering you can be difficult. Your partner can often feel accused, and  get defensive.  Things can end up feeling worse after the discussion, and sometimes you wish you hadn’t said anything at all.  On the other hand, choosing not to address these issues can keep the peace, but only temporarily.  Resentment can build, and eventually cause even more problems.

"Here's what I make up about that..."

When I work with couples about how to speak to their partners about things that are bothering them, there are a few little communication “tweaks” that can really help.  One of these small changes is adding the phrase “Here’s what I make up about that…”.  I first came across this idea in Terence Real’s “Feedback Wheel”. Another way of prefacing your perspective might be “The story in my head about that is…”.

Read the example below, and imagine your partner saying this to you:

“Can I talk to you about something?  There’ve been quite a few nights lately when you’ve come home late without letting me know, and I’m left waiting for you to eat dinner.  Here’s what I make up about that… You don’t really want to come home and have dinner with me. And the story in my head is that… You don’t care about how I’m feeling because you don’t let me know that you’re going to be late.”

Try rereading the above example.  Again, imagine receiving this from your partner, but this time skip over the phrases in italics, and notice the difference in tone.

The reason that these few words can make a difference is because our interpretations of our partners’ behaviour are never 100% accurate.  

When we don’t have all of the information, we tend to fill in the blanks to explain what’s going on.  We create stories in our heads to make sense of our experiences. These interpretations and stories have a big influence on our emotions. So when our partners do something that bother us, one of the biggest contributors to how upset we get is the meaning that we ascribe to their behaviour.  

If we add the phrase “Here’s what I make up about that…” to a difficult conversation about something that is bothering us, then we acknowledge to our partners and to ourselves that we have created an interpretation of their behaviour that is influencing how we’re feeling.  So when you use these phrases your partner feels less like they’re being accused, and more like they are being given information about how their behaviour impacts your thoughts, and how that, in turn, impacts your feelings towards them.

Of course, there are many other small changes in your communication that can make this kind of conversation easier.  A few examples might be: agreement on good timing; turn-taking; active listening; avoiding landmines like exaggeration and contempt; and more.

I enjoy working with couples because these kinds of small changes in communication can make a big difference in how well partners relate to one another, especially when we also work on deeper issues of emotional intimacy.  Help from a couples counsellor can be valuable to breaking old patterns of communication and establish the new ones that will bring a sense of connection and support to your relationship.  

Sojourn Counselling and Neurofeedback welcomes couples, as well as individuals, in both their North Vancouver and Surrey locations. Book an appointment online today.

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About the author: Eli Norman is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who works with individual adults, and couples from our office in North Vancouver.

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