The desire to be understood in life is powerful. Often feeling understood by another is a great reason for falling in love - they get you and it feels so good. Understanding each other means sharing values, ways of seeing the world, listening to each other and feeling safe together in a new relationship. But over time life gets in the way, there's the looking after the house, going to work, raising a family, running around for all manner of things and the time for being together and understanding each other just evaporates.
We all know that making time to spend with each other is something we need to do to look after our treasured relationships - whether they be with our partner, siblings, parents, children, friends - all relationships need tender care and quality time. The challenge is having the time, the energy and the motivation to keep doing.
So often when we haven't been able to give the time to our important relationships we end up feeling that we're not understood anymore. That those who are most important to us just don't get us any more. It's an isolating, lonely often angering feeling to have - to not be understood. When we're lucky, we realise we have a choice about it, the trick is having ideas of how to change it, to bring back that loving feeling of being understood.
If you're feeling misunderstood, what's the chances that others in your life are feeling the same? If they're blissfully ignorant of this widening gap it probably has much more to do with them being too caught up in the whirl of daily life to have time to think - just as we all so often are.
When I was struggling with my relationship with my father I was given the advice to "seek to understand before being understood". I must admit, this initially baffled me. It seemed like something I should be getting straight away as one of those sage sayings that come through the ages and I was working through it word by word. And then I got it.
Communication is a two-way street. When you listen to another, have them feeling you are interested in what they are saying they feel more secure, cared for, respected and understood by you. From there the conversations start happening and you get to feel understood again.
For me it meant I had to start seeking out what was behind my father's statements with questions like, "that's interesting, why do you think that?". I remember the first few times I tried this method dad looked at me to check whether I was teasing him or sincere. For me those initial looks got me thinking that he might be seeing me from a different point of view than I had even considered before. My father and I are probably much more similar than we are different, yet we're of different generations so with our strong personalities we clashed and neither backed down very well. So when I started showing interest in what he was saying instead of scoffing at him or straight out arguing dad was suspicious.
It took probably took over 10 conversations before things started truly shifted in how we communicated with each, before I felt he was starting to get me. Our fights certainly dropped off and made for a happier family life. It takes a while to change a relationship's pattern - either way - from good to not so good and back again.
I'd decided to properly test out this concept of seeking to understand before being understood. So I kept at it as a constant endeavour. Yes, I did react sometimes before remembering to seek to understand first and we did revert to some of our old communication patterns then but what matters is the majority of the time, not the odd human failing.
During all of this I did talk to dad about what I was doing because I hadn't been happy with our relationship and wanted a better relationship. I was trying to understand him better so he could get to understand me better.
So how do you translate this into your life so you get to feel understood again?
It depends on the people involved and the type of relationship it is. I decided with dad to initially just start with responding to the statements that were usually my trigger for feeling frustrated with him with "that's interesting, why do you say that?" before reacting negatively. This was so he would feel understood and I got to learn more about this man who's so important in my life. When dad found out I was trying to improve the relationship by understanding better because I treasure him he felt loved and more open to what I was doing.
If it is a relationship where you can say "I love you, I'm not very happy at the moment, I want us to have a better relationship and I would like us to make it better together" you'll find it much easier going when the other person is feeling secure, that they're not about to lose you and you're not about to shred them. It is so much easier to discuss really important issues when you're feeling safe and secure rather than vulnerable and defensive.
Make sure they know you treasure the relationship and want to make it better for both of you, to have a richer life together and be the best you can with each other. We all go through times when we're not so happy in our relationships - partners, friends, family, colleagues - and we each have the capacity to go beyond our unhappiness to be open to healthy communication.
Sometimes changes can happen quickly but usually what's changed for the worse in the relationship is a habit or a pattern and it takes a while to change habits, to create new habits.
With my father I figured it was about a 6 - 12 month process to change our communication habits. While we had some really good break throughs in that time it really did take that long before we had changed bad communication habits (from both of us) and were living with healthier communication patterns. I needed to be ready to change, not react so quickly or frequently to triggers - so I changed my response. Repeating the same phrase was fine. It was a signal to dad that I was listening to him and not dismissing him. He ended up listening to me more and not dismissing me. So be ready to use the same phrase to change both your behaviour and their behaviour.
Habits take a while to change and for new habits to become the norm. Many of the habits that are doing our relationships harm are nearly invisible to us - both theirs and our own habits. I learnt that I had a reactionary habit to things not just my dad said but many other people. While dad was the only one I really fought with I did get into heated discussions with others.
A friend's husband use to bait me for fun, knowing if he said things a certain way I would react and he was entertained. So I practiced the "that's interesting, why do you think that?" with him and caught him off guard. I did come to learn that he'd been teasing me most of the time and he really wasn't the idiot I thought he was! It is so much easier getting on with your childhood friend's husband than not.
None of this happened quickly. It all took months and for years afterwards you are rewarded with richer relationships. Now I can start difficult conversations with people by saying "I mean this kindly and with love. I've been feeling ..." as this lets me say quite hard things so we can get a better understanding and move forward. Because loved ones have learnt that I don't go on the attack when I start with "I mean this kindly and with love" they are more open to listening and understanding rather than being defensive which makes people deaf to discussions.
Misunderstandings are the most common form of upsets so being able to clear up misunderstandings more quickly makes for an easier life. When we feel understood we are happier within ourse