“Ok, so Justin, what do you hear her saying?”
“Go slow, just repeat back to her what she’s feeling…”
There were only two other people in the room, our counselor and Brooke, both of whom love me deeply, but I can’t recall many other times I felt so small and alone.
With a few inconsistent exceptions, I hadn’t sat on a therapist’s couch much my entire life, certainly not many times in the then 13ish years of being married.
Let’s just say I wasn’t a well-oiled machine, ha.
I had finally been thrust into a game that I couldn’t charm, smart or hustle my way to the top of the leaderboard.
I was losing, badly.
It felt so obvious and elementary when he broke it down for me, likely because I needed to hear it at such a level.
His role play effort that I clearly bombed was met with grace, no shame.
But his answer was fascinating to me.
This isn’t word for word, but I remember it this way:
“Every time Brooke shares something from her heart, you’re meeting it with your head. You’re giving her a logical answer to an emotional problem. The head and heart speak different languages.”
I like living from the head. It’s safer for me. I can control lots of things up there.
Packaged, consistent, predictable, under control.
Just the way I like it.
Have an answer, fix stuff, avoid pain, remain in charge.
Sure, I acknowledged often with my head how great the heart is. See the disconnect?
Until that role play incident.
After my botched attempt at connecting heart to heart, I got to watch our counselor step in as me.
“So Brooke, I’m hearing you say that you feel sad when….”
“And when I respond by trying to fix things, it makes you feel like I’m minimizing your pain, is that right?”
“That makes sense, I’m really sorry you feel that way…”
His answers were way better than mine, I don’t think he said “uhh” even one time. 😂
I instantly started thinking (I live in my head most of the time so this was natural) about how many times and how many ways I’d responded to Brooke, our kids and frankly, just about everyone who shared heart stuff with me, with a nice, concise, well-intentioned head statement.
A friend sharing some really hard stuff about a career choice?
“That sucks man, but here are three things you can do to find that dream job.”
A family member going through breast cancer?
“I’ll pray for you and I know it’s hard but I’m sure God has a plan here.”
A daughter laying in bed scared to death of something adults aren’t scared of anymore?
“You’re fine kiddo, here I’ll turn the light on and check on you before bed. I love you.”
That afternoon on that couch, you would have thought he was throwing out impossible college calculus questions at me by the way I stumbled through it.
Turns out, he was just putting my own disconnectedness from my wife on display for me to stare at.
And neither of us liked what we saw.
Fast forward two years and I’m far from a black belt in heart connection. But like we all are, I’m a work in progress.
And when Brooke now shares her feelings, it’s much more natural to say something like:
“Uhh…well…I can see how you feel that…uhh…thanks for sharing…I’m really sorry…uhh…if I’m hearing you right…”
The heart language is better, though it’s still foreign to me at times.