A female client recently emailed me about a communication problem she was having with her new partner:
“We have one-sided conversations. He steers them in the direction he wants them to go — towards himself!”
“Remember that nice guy I met? I’ve been seeing him quite a lot. We get on well together and I feel comfortable with him. But I’m starting to realise, even though we’ve only known each other for a while, that he’s rather full of himself. We tend to have one-sided conversations, mostly about him. Whenever I try to start conversations about myself and my life, he steers them in the direction he wants them to go — towards himself! I’m always the one who’s asking ‘How was your day?’ because he’s got a busy job and he’s working on some big new deal. He doesn’t ask me in return how my day was.How can I break this pattern of one-sided conversations? I mean, how can I subtly make it clear to him that it would be nice if he asked me ‘How was your day?’, for example, or ‘What do you do actually?’ Or would you advise me to be true to my own feeling and just say: ‘You never ask me how I am’?
This was my reply:
You experience him as being pre-occupied with himself rather than showing interest in you. You want to break this pattern, because you know you won’t feel truly satisfied and happy in a relationship with a partner who pays too little attention to you and shows insufficient interest in you. You deserve attention and interest, right?
The only way to change this pattern is to (repeatedly) confront him – openly, honestly and assertively – with how you experience his behaviour, how you feel about that, and what your unmet need is; that is, what you’re not getting out of your interactions with him. Let him know that without pointing an accusing finger at him. Speak only in ‘I messages’, an effective approach that is the essence of Non-Violent (or Compassionate) Communication:
1. “When I’m not getting enough attention from you,”
2. “I feel … [insert adjective describing your feeling],”
3. “and what I then need is … [insert noun indicating your unmet need].”
4. “Would you please … [insert verb indicating the desired behaviour]?”
If you consistently speak in this way, from your autonomous adult position, without being unnecessarily self-effacing, hopefully he will become aware of his role in maintaining the pattern of one-sided conversations. Once he’s become aware of this, he will be free to choose whether he wishes to modify his behaviour. If, despite your input, he cannot or will not behave in a different way, you will then be free to choose whether you wish to stay in this relationship.
Confront him as soon as possible and as often as necessary by telling him frankly how it is for you and what you need from him. If he can’t or won’t give you that, then you can’t possibly feel satisfied and happy in his presence, can you?
What’s been preventing you from confronting him and asserting yourself so far? Are you scared of losing him? That’s understandable, but fear is such a poor counsellor.
Care for yourself, feel and respect your personal boundaries and be assertive in your dealings with others. You deserve attention, care and love!