“I’m in a mid-life crisis, I guess. The passion is out of my life and I’m looking for something more. My wife doesn’t understand me.”
Any polyamorous person on a dating site is almost sure to get a message like this from time to time. No, it’s not exclusive to men. Women do a serious version of it, too. So get off your high horse.
But male or female, if you’ve been in a long-term relationship that’s gotten blah, you might find yourself saying, “Oh, it would be so much better if I had a partner that understood me.”
While I’m not saying that your relationship problem isn’t that you’re misunderstood, do you really think something so commonplace and cliché is really because partners of decades don’t understand each other? Really? After decades together.
You people aren’t paying attention, are you?
And you know what? That’s rather the point. Now, you know ole Mama Java. She’ll never advise you to try to get someone else to behave the way you want to fix your problem. But honestly, this kind of intimacy problem is a genuine big deal. More than that, it’s often pretty tragic.
I want to offer a possible solution, and it’s a good one. If you’re feeling like your partner doesn’t understand you, do something a little counterintuitive:
Put all your energy into understanding your partner.
Now, I’m not suggesting long, drawn-out conversations where you’re prying like a parent with a non-communitive teenager. It doesn’t work then and it certainly isn’t going to work isn’t going to work in an adult relationship. When I say put your energy into understanding your partner, it means understanding the lack of communication, too. Sometimes, it can be as easy as, “Baby, we haven’t been talking much. Is there a reason you’d like to tell me about?” and find a floodgate opens. Sometimes, it’s a courting process.
Don’t confuse “understanding your partner” with “getting the information you need to have a good lever with your partner”. Understanding means exactly that. If you don’t love and care about and want to know your partner down into his bones, my dear, you have a far worse problem that your partner not understanding you. Got that?
If you think this is sounding a bit like Stephen Covey’s Habit Five of the Seven Habits o Highly Effective People, there’s a lot to that. If you’re having trouble connecting, if you’re having a hard time communicating, seeking to understand and understand deeply does two things. The first thing it does is give you a clearer grokking of the issues involved. It is never a bad idea to seek to understand a partner deeply. Prying and being invasive is something else entirely. If you’re seeking to truly understand, you’ll avoid being invasive because you’re developing the empathy and compassion to understand how your partner is feeling.
The second thing that seeking to understand does is build trust. ‘Member how you were all upset and had your kickers in a bunch because your partner didn’t understand you? We all want to be loved and understood by our partners. You partner(s) want you to understand them, too! It’s much easier to make that connection with someone you have seen demonstrate on a consistent basis that s/he wants to understand you!
Remember to take it slow. If you’ve gotten to the “My wife doesn’t understand me” phase, your relationship has been sliding for a long time. This isn’t something you can gloss over for a couple of months and expect everything to be all lovey-dovey and dandy. It’s going to take time and patience. Me? I think good intimate relationships are worth it.
This won’t solve every single relationship problem you have. Sorry, there’s no shortcuts. But this is a fantastic first step to repair and expand relationships.
 Seek first to understand, then to be understood.