Facts for Living: What you heard vs. what I said

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension District Agent

Healthy relationships thrive in an atmosphere where each person feels comfortable talking openly and honestly about important issues. In this way, minor issues can be talked about before they become big issues that can damage the relationship.080714-facts-for-living1 Couples who have lived together for many years may think they know everything about their partner that there is to know. But, you change over time. Unless couples intentionally and continually share, your partner may have no idea how you have changed in your thinking and your reactions to the world around you.

Sometimes the hardest part of communicating is hearing what is actually said. Misunderstanding the meaning behind your partner’s message often leads to an argument. When what you say, or maybe intended to say, is not the same as what your partner heard, then a filter is at work. Filters affect what we hear and say as well as how we interpret the conversation.

How we feel, what we think, what goes on around us, and our own personal experiences influence which filters interfere with what is being said and heard. Here are some filters the affect a couples’ communication:

  • Distractions – Both external and internal (feeling sleepy, having other things on our mind, etc.) factors distract us from giving our full attention to our partner. To avoid misunderstandings and potential arguments, make sure you and your partner are ready to listen and talk.
  • Emotional states – How you feel (angry, sad, worried, etc.) during a conversation affects how you interpret what is said and heard. The best protection against this filter is to acknowledge it to yourself and your partner, “I’ve had a bad day. It’s not anything you have done. I need some time to relax and then we can talk.”
  • Beliefs and expectations – People oftentimes look for or hear in others what they are expecting. For example, if you expect your partner to be angry with you, he is more likely to sound angry to you, even if he is not. Sometimes we “mind read” – we think we know why our partner said or did something, and judge him or her based on our assumptions. Being aware of this filter, entering a conversation with an open-mind, and asking your partner questions to seek clarification can help prevent misunderstandings.

Differences in communication styles, how we were raised, our gender, as well as self-protection – when we may not say what we really feel or need for fear of a negative reaction, are other possible filters.

The best defense for dealing with these filters is being aware that they exist. When you feel tired, upset, hungry, or just not comfortable with talking, let your partner know. Recognizing and acknowledging your filters will go a long way toward improving your communication with your partner and your relationship.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at Frontier Extension’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].


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