We humans have a tendency to always want to be right. It really gets us in trouble in relationships, especially intimate ones. Even more so when we sweat the small stuff. Like the dishwasher.
We recently worked in couples therapy with a couple who had a fight about whether the dishes in the dishwasher were clean or dirty. The wife knew she’d asked her husband while sitting at the dinner table if they were dirty and he said, “Yes.” She proceeded to put the used dinner dishes with what she was soon to find out were clean dishes in the dishwasher. “What are you doing?!” her husband yelled, “Those are clean!” She followed with, “But you just told me they were dirty!” “No, I didn’t!” he answered. “Yes, you did! I asked you specifically so I wouldn’t make a mistake and you said, “Yes.” “You just don’t remember because you weren’t listening to me!”
The wife felt the familiar sting of long-ago hurts when not being listened to. As the youngest child in her family, her voice was often not heard, was overlooked, didn’t matter.
Memories flooded her. How many times had she told her mother she hated the green velvet dress that had been custom-made for her brother’s Bar Mitzvah. How humiliated she felt having to wear it around all his ‘hot’ friends. She felt ugly, awkward and stupid -- wanted to hide. Had her mother heard her?
Then there was the time she was forced to take acting lessons at the local community theater. She felt so embarrassed having to stand on stage. She couldn’t pretend to be someone else. She didn’t even know who she was.
She also hated when her mother made her go to socials where she was supposed to meet and greet strangers, especially cute boys. Those were the ones she stayed far, far away from. Afraid she would freeze, have nothing to say and stand there like an idiot.
Not being listened to was something that made her feel invisible. Like she didn’t exist. So, she stopped bothering to try to be heard. Pulled inside her shell. Let others do the talking. Listen to them. Later in life, made a living listening to others. Forgot she had her own stories to tell.
Her own needs to express.
She wondered, “How is it that I ended up married to someone who somehow knows just what my most vulnerable raw spots are? And hurts me in exactly that way? Like the one of “not being heard.”
We reminded this couple how we unconsciously choose a partner as a way to heal our early childhood wounds because as adults, over time and with greater awareness, we have more power to change our response to those hurts…