Written By: Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart
“That’s not what I am trying to say.” Most couples have a difficult time getting
across their point when arguing. Too often they get lost in details and tangled in
‘that’s not what I meant, you are taking it the wrong way.’ Quickly a couple finds
they are arguing over tone of voice, choice of words or an attitude. The way
something is said often becomes the point, which misses the point all together.
In this time period, couples are living with a low level of constant simmering stress.
Walking around in masks, stepping aside to keep 6 feet apart from others,
constantly disinfecting hands and distancing from friends and co-workers creates an
atmosphere of alertness. We are constantly told to be aware of and careful of the
When danger is in the air, it is our amygdala (the almond shaped part of our
emotional brain) is called upon to constantly scan the environment. When it senses
danger it alerts us so we can face and deal with the danger. Our amygdala is always
listening in the background and too often, before it can verify the details of the danger, it helps
us react as though the danger is real and confirmed.
That is why small comments can easily be taken the wrong way, tone of voice can be heard as negative and intentions viewed as hurtful.
Here are a few tips to help you listen to your spouse so you can stay on topic and
understand your spouse’s point. And do it before your amygdala hijacks the
conversation redirecting your attention to your spouse’s tone of voice. Resulting in
you misinterpreting your spouse’s point.
1. Ask your spouse to share their point in a healthier way. Don’t make how
your spouse talks the point. Otherwise you will miss your spouse’s point.
Maybe your spouse talks loud, giggles at awkward times, losses track of
his/her own point, stammers to find words, deeply sighs after each sentence,
has long pauses before responding, repeats the point over and over, shares
too many stories, or has a business style of talking. These ways of
communicating can sound attacking, blaming, accusing or ill-mannered
triggering the amygdala that danger is at hand, putting you in a defensive,
self protecting position. The conversation can quickly shift to your spouse to
share her view louder triggering you to be more defensive. Bring up what
you would like changed during another conversation where that is the point
of your conversation. Be clear to your spouse as to what is hurtful
“I don’t want your tone of voice to be the topic of our conversation, can you please say
what you’d like me to understand in a different way as I really want to hear your
2. Look past the pain to find the point.
If your spouse feels attacked or not valued, his amygdala will sound the alarms
alerting danger. What could be so dangerous? The most feared thing in a marriage
is the thought of being falsely attacked and losing the relationship connection.
When your spouse is protecting their heart from being hurt or protesting the hurtful
things being said, slow things down. What they are sharing is their pain, not their
point. Look past the pain to find their point.
3. Kindly acknowledge your spouse’s point.
Before you rebuttal your spouse’s point with your defensive argument about how
you are not wrong but rather they are wrong in thinking you’ve done anything
wrong, acknowledge your spouse’s point.
“What I hear you say is that when I take a phone call during dinner it makes you feel
unimportant as though I don’t care about our date. You also feel this way when I get
distracted with work on our vacations. I can see that, I am sorry. I would like to do
We are living in unique times right now. Uncertainty is all around us. Will
businesses and schools open up or stay limited? What will next week bring? We
don’t know. With so much uncertainty and alertness for danger, having the safety of
our most important relationships brings stability, hope and courage. We all need to
be assured that home is a safe harbor where we are loved and difficulties can be
resolved and hurts repaired.
“Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding”
“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a person of
understanding.” Proverbs 17:27