Married. You and your spouse talk every day and you sleep in the same bed. You share bills and responsibilities. Of course, you have sex. You do all the things married couples do. Yet you so often feel unheard and unknown by your spouse.
You don’t feel like your spouse knows your hurts and pains. They’re unaware of what causes you to be fearful or insecure. When the two of you talk about personal or intimate matters, you don’t feel like your spouse gets you even though you shared exactly what you were thinking and feeling.
You’ve made comments to express your feelings that they didn’t get. Your conversations are not fulfilling. It’s made your sex life one-sided because you don’t feel known or heard so you’re not as into giving yourself to your spouse in that way. And you’re not sure if they notice or even care.
How does this happen?
One possible explanation is your spouse isn’t curious about you anymore. Curiosity pushes someone to want to know all the complexities of their spouse’s thoughts, personality, dreams, and feelings. It drives you to understand how past experiences affect your spouse in the present.
Curiosity can stop for several reasons:
- Your spouse believes they know all the important things there are to know about you.
- The busyness of life has subconsciously shifted the priorities.
- Your spouse has become more focused on themself.
- Complacency in the relationship and in their own personal growth.
As a result, spouses often don’t hear their partner’s cries to be heard. They miss the snarky comments, make assumptions about the marital silence, and overlook opportunities presented to show they hear and know you. You may be evolving or even changing, but your spouse still speaks to you based on how you thought when the two of you first got together.
What can you do about it?
Yes, you have to talk about it. The struggle of letting your partner know you’re feeling unheard and unknown is getting them to hear from you. Ironic, right? This is a conversation that my wife and I had for years before I finally heard her. Did I think I’d heard her before? Of course, I did! I’d listened to what she said and tried to treat her based on the words she said. However, she knew I didn’t hear her because I didn’t become genuinely curious about her. I was still interacting with her as if she hadn’t grown or evolved since we first met. Consequently, I was missing out on getting to really know her and her new ideas, dreams, and desires.
You’ve probably tried many times to get your spouse to really hear and know you. All to no avail.
Here are the keys to being truly heard by your spouse.
- Gentleness. Getting louder, forceful, or playing the blame game is not the way to get heard. Marriage therapist and researcher John Gottman has coined the phrase, “Gentle Start-Up.” You can attack your spouse with insults or approach your spouse with gentleness. It hurts to be married and feel unknown, but to approach your spouse with anger and rage is more likely to cause defensiveness than to birth helpful conversation.
- Be Direct. Don’t Hide Your Emotion. Your spouse does need to see your emotions in a healthy way. Nothing violent, abusive, or manipulative. Hurt, neglect, sadness, and loneliness are all real emotions that can help your partner understand the gravity of the problem.
- Perception. Approaching your spouse from the perspective that they do want to make you happy. They love you and want your marriage to work. Battling the tension between feeling like your spouse is not interested in you and knowing they love you and want you happy can be tough, but it is doable.
- Clarity. What makes you feel heard and known? When do you feel lonely within your marriage? It may take several conversations to communicate all that’s on your heart and even more for your spouse to get it. Repetition from a gentle spirit is helpful.
Don’t Give Up.
If the two of you are both well-intentioned and you both want the marriage to work, then keep pressing forward. Talking to other couples who have experienced similar struggles can be encouraging. Talking to a marriage counselor may be empowering. I’ve heard many spouses say that after so many years, “My spouse finally gets me!” When that happens, you go from the feeling of being unnoticed and unknown to experiencing levels of connectedness and intimacy that’s very difficult to find outside of a committed relationship. A marriage where you both feel heard and known is a relationship that offers the security and comfort which brings peace to the soul.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***