Stuck on Repeat

December 5, 2023

Dear Conflict Coach,

My significant other from high school and I are trying to make a long-distance relationship happen, which is obviously hard. What makes it more frustrating is that every time we get to actually talk, they just keep saying the same thing over and over again about how hard this is and how sad they are. I get it. I feel that way too. But, I don’t want to focus on the sadness during our best time to really connect. I keep trying to distract them and change the subject, but they seem to just get more fixated.

–Stuck On Repeat


Dear Stuck on Repeat–

Long distance is definitely a challenge, and it can put lots of pressure on those best moments of connection to be perfect. They probably won’t ever be, and also reflective listening may be just the tool to get you and your significant other off repeat.

Often, people repeat themselves because they think they aren’t being heard or that the person they’re talking to doesn’t really understand. Your efforts to distract your significant other, no matter how well-intended, may just be making it harder for them to know you understand. That repetition is a clue for you to deploy some reflective listening. Here’s how:

Let’s say your SO says, “I just miss you so much. No one here is as much fun as you.” You then want to reply with something that indicates that you are paying attention to both the content and the emotion of what they’re saying. 

You might reply with something like, “I miss you too. It sounds like you’re wishing you could meet other fun people there, but it’s hard because you keep thinking about missing me and other people from back home. Is that right?” Ending with a question to check your understanding is crucial. Your SO might say, “Yes, that’s it exactly!” If they do, that’s a sign that they feel heard. The more that happens, the more likely they are to get off repeat.

But, your SO might also reply and say, “No, that’s not it exactly. It’s like I’m having trouble wanting to succeed here because it seems so hard without you.” The clarification they’re making means that you didn’t quite get what they’re saying, but they want you to understand and keep trying. If you get that sort of reply, then engage that reflective listening again, and keep going until you get a response like, “Yes, that’s it!”


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