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It's best to put aside your differences and just listen

Who has it worse? Husbands or wives?

But what about me?

Have you ever noticed that when you complain to a friend or family member about your problems they'll often try to top you, by explaining how theirs are even worse?

Or that if you drag yourself through the door at the end of a tough day announcing how tired you are, your spouse will often respond with, "Well, what do you think I've been doing? Sitting around eating bon-bons all day?"

It's almost like when you share your problems, other people - particularly those closest to you - interpret this as somehow invalidating theirs.

I recently wrote about why some women get frustrated with their husbands and choose to leave their marriages and, I have to say, I have never received such an outpouring of reader mail.

Men and women from around the country wrote to share their anger, disappointment and disillusionment with their spouses and the opposite sex in general.

Many of the men were seething with rage because I had only shared the female perspective. Others expressed regret over what they now recognized as the pattern that led to their divorces. And some of the men even asked me for the name of the counseling program my husband and I had used. (www.gettingtheloveyouwant.com)

As for the women, most of their letters were either smugly saying "that's exactly why I left," or somewhat wearily saying, "I'm leaving this on the back of the toilet hoping he'll get the message."

But behind the bitterness and anger from both sides, I could see men and women who felt unheard, unappreciated and misunderstood. Their sadness was almost palpable through their emails and I wondered if they had ever poured out their heart to their spouse the way they were to me.

My guess is, probably not. Because when you try to share your sadness or frustration with your partner, they're often so mired in their own perspective, that they can't even hear yours.

I've seen it happen time and time again, not just in marriages, but in businesses and families - and even chess clubs and vacation bible schools.

Someone stands up and says, here's one problem, one idea, or one scenario and the other person assumes that their reality is being completely negating and ignored.

But that type of either/or thinking is a false dichotomy that we nutty humans create in our own minds when we feel hurt or misunderstood.

We tell ourselves that the other person's feelings and opinions are somehow invalidating what we know to be true.

But more often than not, their perspective is just that - theirs - and it does not negate ours. Said another way, just because I say I'm exhausted, it doesn't mean that you're not.

One of the biggest mistakes we often make is to attach our own insecurities to the end of someone else's sentences. If you tell me you feel hurt, I hear that you don't even care that I'm feeling sad. If you turn up the AC, I assume that you're immune to my shivering. And if you tell me what I'm doing wrong, I think that you must believe that you're just perfect.

In other words, if you say this, it must mean that - all conveniently scripted by me - the one who really has it tough.

We cast ourselves as the victim and everything the other person says or does is seen through a filter that validates our own point of view.

But ruminating about how you have it worse than your spouse isn't particularly helpful. Whenever you find a way to put aside your own insecurities and truly listen for five minutes it's always amazing what comes out of it.

So, in the long running contest to determine which spouse wins the "I have it tougher" award, I say we call it a draw.

But what about you?

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.forgetperfect.com.