A person standing in front of a semi-opaque window wall. They have medium length curly brown hair and are facing the window. They are wearing a brown shirt, bracelets, and boho rings. They have over-the-ear headphones on and are pressing their hands into them.

Misinterpretation: Are you Sure You Hear Me?

Couples often tell me that they feel like they are spinning in their communication, having the same fight over and over again.

“It’s like we’re speaking different languages and he just doesn’t understand what I’m saying.”

Do you ever feel like you and your partner are on completely different pages of a book?

You ask for one thing and they do another. You ask a question and they answer a different question.

Communication is a skill, where there needs to be an internal recognition of what is happening inside of ourselves, being able to interpret our own thoughts, feelings, and wishes, and then being able to put this into words, and express it clearly to another person. Then it is on to another person who has to be able to interpret what is being said.

There are a few places that communication gets stuck between partners. One explanation may be that you think that you are communicating clearly, but you may not be. Your communication may leave your partner not knowing what your needs and wishes are. For more on sharing your needs clearly, check out this blog post.

“I thought what I said was crystal clear, maybe they just don’t care?” is a common expression I hear from the women I work with when we explore the repeating patterns and miscommunications in their relationship.

Although this is one explanation, it is a personalization, an unhelpful thinking pattern, that could lead to more negative thoughts and feelings about your relationship. This cognitive perspective may lead you to make negative assumptions about your partner’s behaviour and feel more disconnected.

Another possibility? Perhaps your partner is misinterpreting what you are saying. Let’s explore some common reasons someone may misinterpret you.

Let’s break down three common challenges that lead us to misinterpret others.

We listen to reply and not to understand. Think about it: simple conversation is a reciprocal exchange where we do listen and reply to our thoughts and opinions. But sometimes we forget to take witness and truly understand what someone is saying to us before we reply. Are you trying to guess what is being said? Predict what is said next? Preparing your response to your partner? Practice taking slow deep breaths when your partner is speaking with you, and focusing on their face. If you do not fully understand what they are sharing, ask a follow up question or simply ask “tell me more about so I can fully understand.”

Feeling overwhelmed and flooded. When conversations become intense, we might begin to feel overwhelmed and flooded. Click here for a list of signs you may be flooded. If there is a rush of emotion in conversation, we feel confused by what is being said, or we feel attacked. When we are flooded, we are more likely to not hear everything our partner’s are saying. It’s important to learn strategies to help you calm the rush of overwhelm, like taking slow breaths, pushing your feet into the ground, or practicing engaging in a task (e.g., being side by side with your partner doing dishes, going for a walk, gardening) while talking about something hard. You can also ask for a break and return to the conversation.

Our ways of understanding (or misunderstanding) others is impacted by our previous relationships. In particular, our early childhood and primary caregiver experiences. What did your caregivers do when you expressed your feelings, thoughts and ideas? How did they respond and how did it feel for you? Are you repeating this pattern in your current relationship, either by acting the same as your caregiver, or acting the same as you would as a child? For example, if a caregiver repeatedly rejected your feelings or ideas, you may be ready to reject someone else’s ideas or be on guard for possible rejection, even if another person is not rejecting you. You can bring awareness into these patterns and start challenging how you respond in your communication today.

Misinterpretations are common in relationships. You bring together two separate people with completely different experiences and ways of viewing the world. This is what makes you each uniquely you. Your partner will interpret what you are saying based on their own internal experiences in the moment and with a collection of their own experiences and history. There is a lot that could go wrong in our communication.The goal in our relationships, then, is to learn to share when we have miscommunications or are not completely understanding the other person.

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  • Bring up hard topics and know that you will work through them together
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