A lot of intimate partner conflict arises simply because the couple don’t know or understand enough about each other. Sometimes people rush into their intimate relationships (or the focus of the relationship at the start is too heavily focused on sexual intimacy) that the cognitive and emotional intimacy and communication is forgotten and thus left immature and under developed. If a relationship is X-number of months or years old, the couple can easily fall into the trap of thinking that they ‘know’ their intimate partner. Most of this ‘knowing’ however is in fact based on assumptions and guesses.
Unless you and your partner directly talk about certain things, and providing that you and your partner provide adequate responses (not just yes, no. Yes, no), you cannot really claim that you ‘know’ how your partner thinks, feels or acts. Most of us simply trust that our partner will tell us how they are thinking or feeling at any given time or reveal information about themselves without explicitly being asked. This is erroneous thinking though. We need to talk openly and honestly about things if we wish to understand our partners better and we need to actively encourage these talks. Relationship building is not all about sex and engaging in activities together. Talk, and especially active listening, is extremely vital.
Let me test your intimate partner knowledge and see how many of the following questions you can answer;
Q1). Name 3 of your partners friends (first and last name).
Q2). What are your partners biggest fears?
Q3). What are their dreams and goals?
Q4). What is their position on religion?
Q5). Name 2 of their childhood friends.
Q6). Where did they go for their first family holiday?
Q7). Using their words, how have they expressed what they feel and think when they are scared?
Q8). Using their words, how have they expressed what they need from you in order to feel loved and supported by you?
Now give this list of questions to your partner (without your responses) and ask them to provide THEIR responses. Did the two lists match? If not, why not?
With regards to the last two questions in particular, are the answers different because of a simple misunderstanding or have you ‘heard the answers you wanted to hear’? Where did you get these answers from? Have you just ASSUMED that your partner thinks and feels this way when they are scared and have you just ASSUMED that this is how they want to feel loved and supported? If your answers did not match those of your partner, have you been simply ‘guessing’ what they feel and think when they are scared or have you been loving and supporting them ‘wrong’ this whole time?
The preceding list is by no means an indication that you do not know or understand your partner but if you struggled to answer any or all of the questions, or your answers did not match those of your partner, there is definitely more you need to learn (and vice versa if you provided your partner with the list and they were unable to provide answers or their answers did not match yours). There is always more to learn and understand and there is importance in listening to what is being said.
How can my partner and I improve our understanding of each other?
1. Develop a list of questions like above and see how many answers are correct/match: You can personalise your question list but the main idea is not to berate each other for not knowing the answers. The idea is recognising ‘gaps’ in each other’s knowledge and filling in these ‘gaps’ with the correct information.
2. Examine the difference and similarities exercise: How are you and your partner different and similar? What makes this so? Are you similar and different for different or same reasons? For example, you are both goal oriented but what are your individual thoughts or motivations as to why you yourself are goal oriented? Maybe you will discover that you are goal oriented because you want financial security whereas your partner is goal oriented because they want to be a good role model for your children and others.
3. Build IKEA furniture together: This activity is not just about achieving teamwork and cohesion. This activity is a great way to better understand how you and your partner think. Do you both think the same way? Does one of you prefer to read the instructions first whereas the other prefers to ‘trust their instinct”? Are you rational and like time to think whereas your partner is impulsive and/or likes to learn from their mistakes? Explain your thinking style/approach with your partner and both of you discuss the pros and cons of the thinking style/approach. Obviously, if the activity becomes too ‘hot’, take a break and remind yourselves why you are doing this activity (to improve the relationship).
4. Ask (with your partners permission) family and friends to provide you with their views of you and your partner individually and as a couple. What strengths and weaknesses do they see in both of you individually and as a couple? Can they identify valid areas of improvement?
5. Practice the fishbowl exercise: This activity involves one partner speaking about any given subject, topic, concern, etc, for 30 seconds – 1 minute. The listening partner then has to recall what has been said. This activity seeks to improve active listening. The question list mentioned earlier in the article highlighted how we can often hear what we want to hear rather than hear what was actually said.
6. Practice fighting fairly: Usually when tempers flare, words and statements start getting thrown at one another like spears. Once those words are uttered, there is no taking them back. Having arguments and disagreements is part and parcel of any relationship. The difference between healthy arguments and disagreements and unhealthy arguments and disagreements are the RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. Rules might include; No shouting, no name calling, only one person speaks at a time, etc. When you and your partner are able to learn how to fight fairly, you can begin to listen to their concerns and thus understand them better.