What Makes Your Partner Tick?


The starting point for any investigation into how your partner ticks must be the recognition that their needs and motivations may not be the same as yours. This is very straightforward to recognize in principle, but much harder in practice.

1. Dealing with differences.

Let’s imagine that you’re someone who is action-oriented and wants people to get to the point. You appreciate the importance of listening but in reality you don’t have much patience for it. You tend to focus on outcomes rather than feelings, and you view your day as a series of tasks to be accomplished, preferably in an orderly and logical manner. You don’t have much time for the emotional side of things, and you tend to look forwards rather than backwards. In summary, you see yourself as a ‘solutions’ sort of person. You are quick to analyze problems and pride yourself on fixing them.

Now let’s imagine that you have a partner who is much more creative than you in their approach. Mostly, they don’t want your solutions to their problems. They’re more interested in being heard than being fixed. They’d prefer to work things out as they go along than to follow a regimented and predetermined plan, even if their journey through life is a bit more meandering (at least it seems more fun). They feel you can be a bit of a killjoy at times, and wish you’d loosen up and be more spontaneous.

2. How does this influence your conversation?

How are your respective approaches going to influence the way you have conversation? The answer is significant. You want your partner to get to the point and you’re prepared to interrupt mid-sentence if it gets to a quicker outcome. When you ask the question, ‘How was your day?’, you actually mean, ‘Please tell me about your day in under 2 minutes’. In other words, you are looking for a brief overall summary, a bit like a retrospective weather report. The ideal response you are looking for is something like, ‘It was fine thanks’.

But, since you asked, your partner takes your question at face value. After 5 minutes, you can tell that your partner is just getting warmed up. While you recognize that your chief job is to listen, it feels like a titanic struggle to do so. In truth, you just don’t want to hear the whole story, but you can’t say this, so you face the option of trying to cut the conversation short or hearing the whole thing out. As you look for an escape door, you glance at your phone and raise your eyebrows to convey that something important has cropped up. This is not to say that you don’t love your partner – you do. It’s just that you have quite a lot on your mind, and a long list of jobs to get on with.

3. Is this a problem?

This situation is not necessarily unhealthy. These two people can complement each other well, but there are upsides and downsides to the way they communicate. Their differences enable them to provide counterbalance for each other, but are also the source of conflict. Some partners are actually very alike in terms of the way they communicate, but this has its own advantages and disadvantages. They don’t act as a counterweight to each other, but they do mirror each other’s preferences well.

The important point is that we need to talk together about the way that we have conversation, for the simple reason that it’s fundamental to the health of our relationship. What’s more, we need to be willing to adapt our style of communication in different circumstances rather than expect our partner to adapt to ours.

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