When you have hurt your partner, it is important to be responsive to his or her pain. Seems simple enough, but couples often get lost as they respond to this situation. It is difficult to acknowledge you have hurt someone you care for. Also, you want your partner to acknowledge that there were multiple factors involved in your behavior…that you are not such a bad person.
An example is when hurtful insults are hurled in the middle of an argument. Later, your partner lets you know how hurtful those comments were, but you don’t want to be painted as the bad guy (or gal), so you point out how the comment was made in the context of an argument.
The problem is that your partner is asking you to be responsive to their pain, but you are responding by defending your responsibility for causing the pain. Now, you are the focus, instead of your partner’s pain being the focus of discussion. It is far better to empathize with your partner’s pain first, then discuss the context in which the pain occurred.
Jenny: “You hurt my feelings when you called me those names. I felt disrespected. I want you to respect me even if we are having a disagreement.”
Paul: “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings and lost my temper. I care about you and am sorry for speaking that way. I really think we need to examine how we approach these differences about finances.”
It important to note that Paul was able to first listen to Jenny’s pain before he addressed their need to examine their approach to managing finances. He didn’t automatically make her message to be about him. Instead, he heard her message and was able to be responsive to her pain, before addressing the relationship issue.
Action Step: Try to listen to your partner’s feelings before you move to defend yourself. You will find that you are able to avoid many of the arguments that are characterized by blaming and defending one’s self.