by Susan French, M.A., CCHT

(or why do we keep talking and nothing ever changes?)

Have you ever noticed that when people argue or disagree that, if you really pay attention, the issues are not really what they seem to be disagreeing about on the surface?  In fact, when you listen to these kinds of unpleasant exchanges or are stuck in the middle of one, do you notice that there is a feeling that seems to hover about that each person is really talking about something else, even if the “topic” is the same?  Kind of like the communications are coming towards each other but instead of meeting in the middle, they each seem to go right on past the other person, off into some dark corner and never the twain shall meet.

What you are witnessing is probably a dynamic that I have come to call “It’s not about the socks on the floor.”  When I was married long ago, I was on the edge of a bitter argument like that.  It was then that the light bulb went off for me and I suddenly understood it.

I was a working wife and mother and my former husband was a very hard-working business owner.  We both really like a super clean, neat home.  Since he worked six or seven days a week, sometimes ten to twelve hours, he would come home exhausted.  I was busy also but I really loved to scrub and spit shine our five bedroom, three bath house so that when he got home on Saturday night, after he closed the store, everything was in order and you could eat off the floor, so we could both kick back and enjoy it.   I eventually got help in the house and he would help when he could, but at that time, this was our routine.

One Saturday evening, after I had been straightening and cleaning and scrubbing and dusting and vacuuming all day, he came home, trudged up the stairs as exhausted as I had ever seen him. He plopped down on the bed,  took his shoes and socks off and threw them into the middle of the floor. I was devastated, hurt and confused…and madder than hell.

We looked at each other and then at the socks and then at each other.  For a moment we were both mute.  Our faces were like stone, beet-red and frozen.

Fortunately for us, we looked back at the socks on the floor and then started to laugh.  Because somehow, we both realized at the same time that our feelings were really:  “if you loved me, you would understand how exhausted I am and wouldn’t care if I threw my socks on the floor” and  “if you loved me, you would understand how hard I worked, how good it felt to have everything  perfectly neat and clean, and you wouldn’t throw your socks on the floor.”

We were lucky  that we somehow were able to see through to the real issues instead of fighting about the “socks on the floor.”  That dynamic became forever more to be known as “it’s not about the socks on the floor.”  The real issue was always “if you really loved me…”

I see this all time time in my clients,  with my friends, with my family, and even with myself.  When an arguement doesn’t quite make sense  and there seems to be  zero chance of getting the other person to see your side of it, the chances are very likely that you’re dealing with an issue that is “not about the socks on the floor.”

The event or issue, on its face, standing alone without context, is often fairly neutral.  But somehow each person sees the other person’s actions as being a sign that he is being hard-headed, stubborn, unyielding, unsympathetic, disrespectful, unloving, selfish, and mean.  That he has no clue how it makes you feel and there’s no way you can explain it to him (or her).  And he (or she) feels that by not accepting his behavior, getting angry and upset, that the you are  being hard-headed, stubborn, unyielding, unsympathetic, uncaring, selfish, unloving and mean.

And there you both stand, squared off, arms crossed, jaws set and one thousand percent certain that each one is totally and completely right and justified.  You both become emotionally hijacked (which is another concept for another time).  The Berlin wall has just been resurrected.

For the life of you, neither of you really wants to fight or have unpleasantness.  Each simply wants to be understood, heard, acknowledged, accepted for who they are, and loved.

Where is the disconnect and why is it so very hard to bridge?  Because we forget that 90 percent of all communication is nonverbal.  It is the tones of voice, facial expressions, body postures, fumphing, slamming doors, stomping and growling that are all communicating loud and clear.

No wonder you keep arguing about the socks on the floor.  At that moment in time, both are totally clueless as to how the other person feels, what they think, or how the interchange has impacted him.  Half the time, neither of you really knows how YOU feel or what you’re upset about.  All each of you is aware of is that life has become temporarily unbearable…AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!

The dynamic is really about “if you loved me the way I want to be loved,” “if you cared enough to listen and hear,” “you never understand,” “you are being a total jerk” and you are completely and totally wrong and unreasonable AND YOU will never change.

The unfortunate thing is that usually each person has some vague idea that it’s not really about the “socks on the floor,” but neither can they figure out not what the issue really is.  One or both might be a “right fighter,” where it is more important to them to be “RIGHT” than it is to solve the problem.  Usually neither of them really recognize the real issues of feeling that the partner doesn’t love them, care about them, bother to see their side, and so forth.

In time, they get tired of being mad and they sort of make up.  What that usually means is that they never quite resolve the real issues of not feeling loved, respected, acknowledged and heard.  They simply agree to stop fighting and let it all be swept under the rug.

At some level, both people usually recognize deep down that the surface issue is really not that important when you look at it out of context but neither can figure out what’s really wrong.

This is the stuff of which divorces, domestic violence, and even murder are made.  The next time you find yourself gridlocked on some issue that seems petty or unimportant but feels like life and death to you (and your spouse), agree to stop, take a few deep breaths, maybe even walk away from each other to cool down.

Try not to stomp away, if at all possible, but to allow enough space to occur to let the irrational feelings die down enough so that you can be to look underneath at where each is not feeling heard, respected, loved, understood, acknowledged or appreciated.  Agree to not bring up the “socks on the floor” at all.  That’s not the issue.  Look within yourselves to see where you feel alienated, isolated, alone and betrayed.  Talk about those feelings.  And remember, those are just feelings.  They are neither events nor are they facts.  They are feelings.

I promise, if you take the time and effort to look for those “underneath” or “subtext” issues, these kinds of futile battles will stop. You CAN figure out how to hear, respect, love, understand, acknowledge and appreciate the other and to receive the same in return.

It’s amazing how anger and resentment melt away when you really “get” that your partner feels unloved and you “get” that you too are feeling unloved.  Then it is easier for it to become reciprocal.  The anger and mean-spiritedness  seems to fade away of its own accord.

And if you can’t do it on your own, please call me.  I’ll help you see through those “socks on the floor” to the real issues of mutual love and respect.  I can help you both to bridge those issues back into each others arms, where you once were…remember…back in the day?

Find your way by applying the wisdom above or get help before your relationship is irreparably broken.

Here’s to your success,
Susan French, M.A., CCHT

Susan French

Susan French, M.A., CCHt.  Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist.  Studied hypnotherapy at HMI, a one-year program.  HMI is the only accredited College of Hypnotherapy in the United States.
She has been in private practice for ten years in the San Fernando Valley, California, specializing in pain reduction, anxiety disorders/PTSD, addiction and medical and dental hypnosis.

Ms. French is an educator, author, speaker.  She has a twenty-five year background in addiction recovery as well as having a successful hypnotherapy practice here in Southern California.

Advanced Clinical Hypnotherapy
Tarzana, CA 91356