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A previous partner once taught me what it felt like to 'hear and be heard', however, I'm struggling to replicate her sorcery.

My current girlfriend is extremely problem oriented. While this is generally a great thing, when discussing interpersonal problems, she has attention issues which manifest as problem solving too early into the conversation or focusing on blame assignment or tangential topics before she understands the entirety of the problem (much like I use to). I've gently pointed this out many times, but she/we have been unable to break the pattern.

I tried to just be patient and let her respond and then bring the conversation back on track, but she is extremely garrulous, which inevitably tries my patience, leaving me feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. When she has a topic she wants to discuss I have found the best way to quell her wordiness without fully interrupting her is to interject with questions, however, when I am the one bringing up a topic this tends to backfire and just further derails things.

I've let her know how this makes me feel, and that I'd prefer if she was more inquisitive to ensure she understood me before answering or getting defensive. She seems genuine when she tells me she'd like to do better, but after 8 months of routinely addressing it, the problem persists.

I've tried enlisting outside help. Our therapist is better at interrupting her to get her to sit quietly for longer, but I can tell once she's thought of what she wants to say she's too distracted by it to really process what's going on. I even tried bringing her to a non-violent communication class, but she didn't really seem to understand the rules, what it means to be present or the point of connecting vs being able to just rant freely with a stranger.

In summary, the 3-4 symptoms that I notice seem to always accompany my inablitly to feel heard are:

  • She starts problem solving too quickly.
  • She redirects (either talking about a tangential problem or by focusing on where to place blame).
  • She is extremely garrulous when she speaks / how it happening in conjunction with a derailment on an interpersonal matter I'm trying to bring up triggers me.

What tricks am I missing? Is there something specifically I should be doing/not doing or saying?

It has been noted that this question has similarities to "How to get spouse to empathetically listen to problems instead of (or at least before!) offering solutions?", and while empathy is part of being heard I believe my question significantly differs in the following ways:

  1. I don't feel my partner is lacking any empathy, but rather just happens to be too impulsive.
  2. I'm not conflating sympathy and empathy in the way the other author does.
  3. My goal is to work on interpersonal problems with my partner to build our relationship, as opposed to desiring unload the frustrations of my day onto my partner.
  4. I want my partner to help me problem solve, and would prefer we spend as little time as possible on it (and thus she should interrupt once she's sure she has all the info she needs) so we can get back to having fun together.
  • 1
    I read the other question and I agree with OPs reasons as to why they are different questions. Additionally, the other question deals with a person asking partner for meaningful advice on issues external to the relationship and for them to follow up. This question is about resolving conflicts internal to the relationship. The title could be improved, perhaps "How to opportunely remind partner about hear vs listen approach learned in therapy?". – J A May 10 '18 at 22:34
  • @JA if it had been 'learned in therapy' then I would guess we wouldn't be struggling / all I would have have to do is remind her. Our therapist seems a bit puzzled about how to connect the dots for her as well, but at least she provides me some air time where I can actually get to the meat of some of the issues. – virtualxtc May 11 '18 at 7:50
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    Not sure if this is relevant: Her Dad is currently visiting, and they are having the same interpersonal issues. Apparently he's asked her to write down her questions / comments so that he can finish blaming her for things. I'm beginning to think I might have to solve that problem for her first... – virtualxtc May 11 '18 at 7:52
  • Well, I said "learned" in that comment but my answer doesn't rely or need for anything to be learned during therapy, but rather simply to have been mentioned or covered at therapy. You'd be using therapy as a narrative device to take control of the situation before it scales. Do you see? Maybe you won't know until you try. – J A May 11 '18 at 8:04
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Cash the value of the therapy you are already paying or paid for. Even if it wasn't effective.

This method doesn't rely or need for anything to have been learned during therapy, but rather simply to have been mentioned or covered at therapy. You'd be using therapy as a narrative device to take control of the situation before it scales.

As an issue starts to arise, lean on what the therapist has taught the both of you, quote the therapist and say:

Let's try to talk about this like our therapist recommended.

Do it on time before going into where your partner scales the issue's proportion and deviates towards the "problem" mindset. Offer additional reinforcement.

Remember, we don't have a problem, we have different opinions and views, let's talk about those. Don't prepare answers until I finish talking and I will do the same for you, even if that means staying silent for a while, that doesn't mean someone lost the argument because there is no argument.

Why
Emotions build up and frustration increases as a conversation goes on without "getting what I want", so what you are doing is adjusting the expectations of what she wants before she commits to wanting something irrational you won't be able to provide. Add this too:

If anyone remains silent for a bit that's so cool because it means we are listening and we need to digest what the other person said. We all want to be understood.

So you are setting expectations right, you can, and you will understand what she says if you both explain yourselves calmly. Even if exhausting, you are leading by example and that works both ways. Do you see? You'll understand until you try.

Best of luck.

  • I think the part about articulating that we have different views, not a problem, or an argument before I begin the conversation will clearly help. However, I'm concerned that if those 'views' are significantly different, she may need to take notes or find another method of of bookmarking (I usually say 'I disagree, but go on') so she;'s not distracted by trying to track all the differences in views. I'll try it out and report back. – virtualxtc May 21 '18 at 20:47
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Summaries and objectives

Keep communications focused and to the point. Look for the point being made in an interaction, in isolation, one at a time, and not lots of points altogether.

Summarising such things is hard, it takes work and time. It is easier to ramble and just brain dump for attention.

So slowing down, and writing down what has been said, and then how to respond is a good exercise.

So my objective here is to suggest you get your girlfriend to summarise incoming information. This orders it and identifies interest, priorities, and focus. Next is the response, which is to the point, and short, and summaried.

Now this is hard, because ideas sparking is always an adventure, but also can be a waste of time as not focused and too self absorbed. But summaried and focused, gives space to everyone, and meets the need.

Do, show, watch.

At the most simplest level, you do the thing that you want as an example. You show them how it works, and watch them do the thing you are showing.

You take this down to the simplest level that works in the smallest chunks. It maybe this can only be done once, every now and then, because of resistance, problems. And it is about seeing progress no matter how small, because one is discovering the size and boundaries of the problem and discovering what works and what does not. Being patient on this is the only way, because every person and situation is unique.

  • This has come to mind, but my attempts to implement this in a concrete way have been unsuccessful. Asking her to repeat back what she heard me say as she tries to interrupt me just gets her to parrot me and before she starts her rant. Could you provide some examples on how you would implement a summation policy? – virtualxtc May 10 '18 at 21:07
  • Also, she works as an artist so she's not use to the 'get right into the business mentality' most of us are forced into everyday. Moreover, she hasn't had a real long term relationship before, so I can't really review her past frustrations with her to discuss ways of troubleshooting with her in a way that doesn't involve active parts of our relationship. That said, she's usually very quick to catch on to most things I can teach her, so it really feels like this is a problem of my own inability to clearly articulate a system she can implement to my expectations. – virtualxtc May 10 '18 at 21:18

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