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Marriage 911

About this Blog

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center and has been helping couples in crisis restore and revitalize their relationships for more than 30 years.

At The Marriage Recovery Center, Dr. Hawkins promotes '3 Days To a New Marriage, Guaranteed!' Contact TMRC for a free 20-minute consultation.

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Bring Clarity to Your Spousal Spats


“I know you believe what you think I said, but I’m not sure that what you heard is what I really meant to say.”

I’m not sure who originally penned those words, but they speak volumes to most of us. At one time or another, each of us has been in a heated argument with our mate and found ourselves screaming to be heard and understood. Or, right in the middle of a heated discussion, you lose track of what you were trying to say in the first place.

How quickly a phrase can get turned around. How fast we can feel provoked and turn on our mate and provoke them in return. At one time or another, in our intimate relationships, our thoughts get turned around, jumbled, or we put a spin on what our mate is saying. Such “spinning” creates chaos and efforts must be made to manage them.

A powerful tool to bring clarity to a confusing situation is perception-checking. Perception-checking is exactly what it sounds like: We check out our perceptions by repeating what our mate says to make sure we heard them accurately. When we have not heard them accurately, we alter our perceptions and practice listening until we have accurately heard what they have said.

Here are a few examples of perception-checking: 

  • “Are you saying……………..”
  • “Did I hear you say…………?”
  • “I’m not sure if I got that right. It sounded like you were saying………”
  • “Maybe I misunderstood, but I thought you said…………….”

Do you see how each of these statements or questions brings clarity to the conversation? In each case, there is the possibility of understanding each other, leading to intimacy.

 Consider this testimonial from a client: 

Dear Dr. David,

My husband and I have had trouble getting into heated arguments. When things get heated, he twists my words and I’m sure I twist his. He takes my words out of context and then throws them back at me. Of course, I don’t like it and usually say something sarcastic or hurtful back at him. Soon things are a jumbled mess. 

Recently, however he and I began couples counseling. The counselor taught us a new skill—perception-checking. He has us to practice listening carefully to what each other is saying, and slowing down the process until we get things right. It is amazing how much this one tool has helped us. Please encourage your readers to incorporate this tool into their marriage.

Bravo to this couple, and the many others who are attending couples counseling to strengthen their relationship. Marriage takes work—work to enhance skills. This particular tool is a powerful one and will strengthen any relationship. Let’s consider why this tool can be so effective. 

We all long to be understood; and perception-checking is a powerful tool for understanding.

What we have to say is important, and having our words twisted and distorted is particularly frustrating. On the other hand, being understood draws us closer to our mate. Having our words validated puts us on the same “wavelength” as our mate, increasing intimacy.

Perception-checking shows that we are tuned in to our mate.

Asking our mate if we have understood them shows them that we are taking an active interest in them. We are actively listening, striving to “get” what they are saying. This is one of the highest compliments we can give them — we care enough to ask questions about how they view their world.

Perception-checking is a way to take the conversation deeper and more intimate.

There are times in every conversation when we need to be more attuned to our mate. At times, they will not even know what they are trying to say, and perception-checking will help “slice it thinner,” — taking the conversation to a deeper level.

Perception-checking slows things down, helping to keep things calm.

Nothing destroys healthy communication as much as anger and heated emotions. A strong dose of anger and frustration propels and perfectly good conversation into a battle of wills. Perception-checking helps calm things down so real listening and communication can occur.

Perception-checking leads to other, healthy communication practices.

Once you have mastered perception-checking, you can move more easily into sharing feelings, owning your own thoughts and perceptions, validating another’s experience and active listening skills.

So, I think I hear you telling me you want more tools to improve your marriage? Am I right about this or is there something else I can write about that would be more effective? (Just practicing!) Please give me feedback on this issue or ask for more information about Marriage Intensives and my clinical practice at The Marriage Recovery Center. Please see more about my work at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and www.yourrelationshipdoctor.com, sharing your concerns and insights at therelationshipdoctor@gmail.com.

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 4:43 PM

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