In my previous blog, I wrote about the five steps to Emotional Intimacy. Now, for a real life application.
On this particular day, I was counseling a couple recovering from an affair situation (the husband was the one who had strayed). In this particular conversation, we were discussing how the husband had not felt “understood” in a recent conversation with his wife. He had come home from work and told his wife that his boss had “reduced his bonus in an unfair manner”. The wife, quickly and forcefully, urged her husband to talk to his boss and rectify the situation immediately.
On the surface, you might see nothing wrong with the wife’s response. However, if you understand the five steps to emotional intimacy (facts, important facts, feelings, expressing understanding, empathy), then you know something went wrong here. What happened was that the wife immediately tried to solve the problem at step # 2 (important facts) without understanding how her husband felt about the situation (step # 3), without expressing her understanding of his feelings (step # 4), and without empathizing with his situation (step # 5). REMEMBER — your spouse usually is looking for you to listen and understand BEFORE you solve their problem.
What we discovered in this one conversation was PROFOUND. We learned that often the husband did not feel understood because the wife did not take the time to get past step # 2 in their discussion (by the way, talking to his boss was not going to work, so the wife’s suggestion was a dead-end). And, we also learned something else ~ that not being understood by his wife was one significant reason for the husband’s infidelity.
So, we took the opportunity in this setting to learn a new skill — getting to emotional intimacy. As we worked through the conversation again, this time the wife did not try to solve the problem at step # 2. Instead, once she learned of his issue, she asked him how he felt about this salary reduction (step # 3). And, the husband replied that he “felt angry”.
So, now that the wife understood how her husband felt, she then continued and expressed to her husband that she understood his anger (step # 4). She said, “Yes, and I’d be angry too. That is just not right.” At this point, you could see the husband begin to warm up to the wife’s response. Instead of feeling like a failure and incompetent (because his salary was being reduced), he felt understood and cared for.
Then, the wife took a crucial final step. She not only understood her husband’s feelings and expressed them back to him, but she went even deeper to understand the broader implications as he might experience it (step # 5, empathy). She said, “You know, I am guessing that you are not only angry, but you might also be scared because of our need for that money to meet our budget”.
WOW. What a home run by the wife. The husband sat there like a brick had hit over the head because it was EXACTLY what he was feeling (and it had been rare to feel that understanding from his wife). What then ensued was a lengthy discussion on how the two of them would manage their budget in oneness, given these new circumstances.
The husband went from feeling like a failure to one feeling understood, cared for, and now with a plan to solve his issue (by the way, he subsequently found a new job). I don’t think it is too far-fetched to say that the way we handle our conversations ultimately lead us to the mountaintop (emotional intimacy) or the valley (disconnected) in our relationships.
If you are someone needing help finding emotional intimacy in your relationship, I can help. Give me a shout (email@example.com or call me at 717-802-6604) — I’ve love to help you take some steps to the mountaintop!
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