When is it OK to talk about that nail?
This video is one of my favorites about relationships. Hilarious because it is absolutely true-I think many of us can relate to this situation-feeling like our partner just isn’t listening because they’re focused on a different aspect of the conversation than you are. Commentary about this video tends to land on the gender aspects of this argument-the male v. female way of communication, fixing vs processing. I am going to diverge here, because not only is that perspective based in cisgendered stereotypes, not to mention heteronormative ones, but because these communication challenges exist across all relationships in all directions.
Content Versus Process:
What I think is most pertinent in this video is what we in the business call “Content versus Process”. In all communication there are always two levels of material: the content and the process. The content is the factual, logistical, logical side of the communication: the nail, in the video above. What is causing the woman’s discomfort? Oh, I think we can all safely say, it is the nail. With couples, this issue could be the housework, the hobby that your partner spends too much time on, money, kids…etc. The process, on the other hand, is about the feelings, perceptions, and EXPERIENCE of the person talking. In the video, the woman with the nail is talking about the feeling of pressure in her head. But for those of us who have argued about dishes or bills, our experience is usually much more complicated than the straight forward aspects of whose turn it is to pay a bill; it is about fairness or support or a feeling of partnership.
Support or Problem Solving?
The video above breaks down the process versus content challenge that we see so much in our offices: one partner needs emotional support while the other wants to solve the problem or debate the facts. Learning to listen for what your partner needs and wants from the conversation is essential to building trust and receptivity; when you learn to track how your partner feels in response to your attempts to be helpful, you can see the positive effects of your partner really feeling your support.
Sure, sometimes it may make you crazy to offer support to your partner when it would seem so much easier to just pull out the nail. But you will find how much stronger your partnership becomes from really attending to what your partner wants rather than what you think they should want. Why? Because offering what another needs builds a feeling of being understood, cared for, and safe; it cultivates the warmth of knowing how to care of one another. It is the path to a secure functioning relationship. One that often leads to your partner feeling open to your help, ready to let you just yank out that nail.