How many times have you said those three little words to your significant other? No, not those words. We’re talking about the other three: “Let me finish!” It tends to happen when you’re both having an argument or heated discussion, with each of you battling for the high ground in an argument. But when talking over one another becomes a regular part of everyday discussions, it can lead to real problems.
Talking over someone is a harsher form of interruption. At first, it might pass unnoticed or be met with a mild upbraid, but in time, it becomes very damaging to a person’s psyche and, ultimately, the relationship itself. The person who is being talked over can begin to feel marginalized and powerless because, intentional or not, beneath the action itself runs a current of disrespect. Eventually, that current, if left unchecked, could end up sweeping both people away. Because, at the end of the day, both people just want to be heard.
Why Are Certain People Compelled to Talk Over Others?
Dominance. The truth is, we live in a culture where power and dominance are the currency, and the person who talks the loudest is often the one who is heard the clearest. As such, people are often raised to believe that the only way to get your point across is to drive it home as loudly as possible.
“There can be many reasons why a partner talks over another,” says Mikela Hallmark, a counselor based in Atlanta, Georgia. “It could be that they don’t feel understood, or they come from a family that speaks over others so it’s a habit, or they feel emotionally flooded, or maybe they just haven’t learned effective listening skills.”
In addition, chronic over-talking can be rooted in insecurity and a compulsive need to be heard, no matter what the outcome. “Sometimes one partner who talks over the other is feeling unheard,” says Katie Ziskind, an experiential family therapist from Niantic, Connecticut.
“However, they talk louder thinking they will be heard more. They want to be heard so badly that they don’t realize that continuing to talk pushes their other partner away.”
What’s the Short Term Solution?
Solving the issue of one partner talking over the other can be complicated, as it’s easy to point the finger of blame at the one doing the talking.
However, psychoanalyst Mark Borg says that resolving this issue is more of a two-way street. “When couples address an issue like this — one talking over the other, the other feeling that their opinions don’t matter, or that they’re not heard — with a willingness to accept their part in it, defenses loosen, and communication gets better,” he says.
At the moment, Hallmark says, couples can try different tactics to try and allow the conversation to flow better. Set a timer and take turns talking. Hold a ‘talking stick’ and only speak when holding the stick. Take breaks during heated discussions to cool down and recollect. With practice, the hope is that those tactics will change the way the two partners relate to each other.
What’s the Long Term Solution?
Going forward, the key is to ultimately improve communication on a more permanent basis. That might entail having some deeper conversations. As noted, the need to talk over another person can stem from childhood insecurities.
“Usually it helps to explore what conflict looked like for partners growing up, and then deciding as a couple how you can have conflict now,” says Hallmark. “Then, deciding what’s okay and not okay, and genuinely asking what your partner would like you to do if you’re feeling talked over, or disregarded.”
It helps, Hallmark adds, to avoid sounding critical or defensive or judgmental when asking this question. Think about asking it in a neutral or inquisitive way.”
The key to feeling heard is to make sure that both parties feel safe and open to discussing things that might not be pleasant to hear but will ultimately lead to a more positive way of relating to one another.
“Establishing a sense of safety — where it is safe to be ourselves, accepting our contributions to what does and does not work in our communication — is a far better way to address and deal with being talked over than finding a good solution and implementing it against — or even for —them,” says Borg. “Good communication is mutual — nothing else, no great strategy, will work in the long run.”