Getting constantly interrupted? When you try to talk to your husband or your wife, does your partner speak on top of you, cut you off, interrupt, or butt in?
That hurts. Being talked over is hard to take, and can leave you feeling small. It’s pretty clear evidence that listening is not a priority for your partner that moment.
You may tell yourself, “This person can’t care about me,” and you feel like nothing. You may feel sad about lost opportunities to work out problems together because your partner won’t (can’t?) hear what you have to say.
Interrupting can be very hurtful and unhealthy relationship behavior. But what is really going on?
Your partner might be in a bad mood, frustrated, resorting to bullying, or simply unaware.
Interruption might be part of someone’s habitual style of talking.
What’s happening when someone cuts you off in conversation?
Being talked over can be infuriating, but let’s look deeper. Learning what else may be happening can help you decide how to respond when someone interrupts you.
Some research suggests that our social norms may teach people to interrupt women more than men.
In a 2014 study, Adrienne Hancock and Benjamin Rubin confirmed that women get interrupted more than men in social conversation. They studied 20 male and 20 female subjects who agreed to talk on a given topic with another person for 3 minutes.
They found on during the 3 minutes (on average)
- Women interrupted men once
- Men interrupted other men 2 times
- Men interrupted women 2.6 times
- Women interrupted other women 2.8 times
Getting cut off may feel like a personal problem. It may also happen because of habits in our social system.
Gender bias plays into who we interrupt and why
Men and women may be brought up to use conversation differently. Men see speech for “rapport-talk” and “report talk,” says renowned author and gender language style expert Deborah Tannen.
In general, Tannen found women talk for connection and intimacy. Talking over someone is disrespectful. Men use conversation for information. Men also talk in ways to avoid losing status, and to even gain social standing. Interrupting helps one-up your place in the world.
More surprising insights come from a study of oral arguments in the Supreme Court, described in Psychology Today. A 2017 study at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law found male justices interrupted Justice Sonia Sotomayor 60 times (according to transcripts), while Justice Antonin Scalia faced only 19 such interruptions.
Women Supreme Court justices in general encountered 3 times more interruptions than those who were men.
It’s both a personal issue and an issue in our social system, says Allison Abrams, LCSW-R. Patriarchal social norms may subject more women to interruptions than men.
When someone cuts you off in conversation – try this
If you find people speaking over you, and you want polite but self-affirming responses, these phrases and responses can help:
- “I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?” (Forbes)
In any setting
- “Please let me finish.”
- “I’m not done.” (Psychology Today)
- Just keep talking (takes practice)
- Get support from allies, who can say things like “Please let her finish.”
- Share with your partner that you notice you get interrupted. Ask – in a non-threatening way – if they realize it’s happening, and what’s going on for them.
An opportunity to build skills to stand up for yourself
When you’re interrupted, it’s tempting to feel attacked or put down, and to take it personally. Over time the interrupted person may start to devalue their partner and the relationship.
Another option is to recognize the interruption, but hold off judging why it happened. Do you have energy to be curious?
Are you getting cut off for a reason you don’t know yet? Is your partner even aware it’s happening? What would your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or partner do if you asked (kindly) why they’re interrupting? Would you like to build skills to speak up for yourself?
Next Step: When you’ve tried everything and people still interrupt you…
If you’re suffering from being spoken over, some coaching or therapy in couples and family counseling can help. We are here for you.
Our therapists bring a variety of expertise and training to help you. We are here to connect you with a counselor who best meets your needs. Please call at 703-768-6240 to schedule a time that works for you.