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Don't turn it around

Air Date: 06/23/10 Dr. Rebecca Jankovich, PhD can be reached at 322-1839.Don't Turn it AroundWhen a woman hasn't been able to get someone to understand her point of view, her reactions to a situation, she typically tries to get the other to put himself into her shoes and see it from her perspective. 35 years of working with couples has convinced me this almost never works. It goes like this: woman is explaining why what he did hurt her feelings and he isn't getting it. So, she turns it around, she asks him to imagine how he would feel in the same situation if she acted the same way towards him as he had acted towards her. She painstakingly draws the scene for him, taking far longer than his patience can stand, and then asks just how would he feel if this had happened to him. The whole time she's drawing the picture for him, he's not really listening; he's thinking about what he's going to say next to get out of this. And even if he listens to the scenario she's drawn, he can't imagine having the same, over the top, reactions that she's having; can't imagine it at all! Women turn it around in an effort to gain empathy; they figure if only their partner could see it from their point of view, then of course, the partner would understand and because they could imagine how she felt, this empathy would motivate them not to act this way again. A woman's solution is often empathy, trying to understand what the other feels. Empathy is not usually a man's solution to trying to get his partner to change; logic maybe, but rarely empathy. Men don't understand the point of turning it around; for them, all this imagine what it would be like if it were you' stuff just makes the whole painful discussion even longer. When I watch women turning it around, it often seems the women are trying to get their partners to agree that they have a right to feel the way they feel; they're trying to get not only understanding, but also an endorsement that of course this is a natural way to feel and react. Ladies, you don't need your partner to endorse your feelings for you to have a legitimate right to feel the way you do. Whether a feeling is legitimate has no place in a discussion in which you're asking for change. Men will often side track the discussion in which you're asking for change by invalidating your right to have the feeling. Can't tell you how often a man's response to his partner in my office is "oh, that's ridiculous", with the expectation that because it's ridiculous, the discussion is now over. Dispensing with a discussion because you don't think your partner's reaction is reasonable, doesn't solve the problem that caused the discussion in the first place. Basic rule of intimate communication: you don't get to judge and dismiss your partner's feelings at least not out loud. Instead of using this empathy builder of turning it around, skip the part where you want him to agree with your right to your feelings. Not everyone feels the same way about situations. Our perceptual filters are finely tuned and unique based on our experiences, childhood, cultural background, spiritual beliefs, and GENDER. Men and women do not perceive the world through the same filter. Instead of putting 90% of the emphasis on getting him to understand how he made you feel, put 90% of the emphasis on getting him to agree to a solution so you won't be in this situation again. The solution is far more important than all the work you're putting into getting him to understand the way you feel; because he's a guy, because he comes from a different background, he may NEVER understand how you felt in this situation regardless, you still need a solution. So, instead of working to get him to understand how awful it is when you visit his parents and leaves you with his mother while he and his Dad play golf for 6 hours, you work out an agreement for how many hours he leaves you alone with his mother during any given trip. Instead of trying to get him to understand how disrespectful it is to you when he's ogling the other women in a restaurant, you work out an agreement where he remembers to pay attention to you and you cue him when his eyes start to wander. Instead of trying to get him to understand how much it hurt you that he forgot your birthday, you work out an agreement as to how he's going to make sure he doesn't forget next year. Women think building empathy will generate understanding and from that understanding comes a willingness to change. Men often think women's reactions are ridiculous and turning it around to get the men to see it from the women's viewpoint is usually a waste of time. He doesn't have to validate your feelings for you to know they're valid. Don't waste time trying to get him to understand if he doesn't get it right away. Shift into problem solving and move on.