I’ve written many blogs about the importance of communication and of listening to your mate, but even when you try your best to listen, it’s not always seen that way. Just ask your partner.
So, I thought I’d break this down into some small, vital chunks.
When you and your mate disagree on something—money, sex, kids, extended family—things can get pretty rocky. While these areas tend to present lots of opportunity to fight/argue, they aren’t the only things you’re arguing about. Some couples get distressed over who does what housework chores, over not spending quality time together and who’s “flirting” with whom (usually when the two of you are drinking).
Ironically, it’s very common for one spouse to not feel heard, while the other one claims to be listening.
Let’s talk about listening. This is more than an auditory function. The brain needs to be engaged as well as the ears. Even when you receive his words into your ears and your brain, that doesn’t mean he feels heard.
I’m going to suggest a number of communication-enriching behaviors that you may decide to use in your next discussion.
First—and this is basic and vital—repeat back to your partner exactly what he or she said to you. I know this seems silly, but it’s hard to repeat back what you’re not actually hearing. Do this in a tone that conveys your partner’s importance to you—no mocking or teasing. If you want to be seen as listening, you need to act like you’re listening. However, doing this can be especially difficult if you’re angry yourself. When you don’t feel your partner gives a crap about you, you aren’t terribly motivated to act loving. You may find yourself thinking about what you want to say, rather than what was said to you. Don’t. You’ll get your turn. Start with listening, even when you’re angry. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, if you know what I mean.
Second—try hard to understand your spouse’s perspective. This is very difficult because she makes conclusions you don’t agree with. You want to straighten her out on these things. You want to explain. Resist the urge. Please. She’ll just see you as defensive and argumentative. Instead, put yourself in her place. If you believed as she does, you’d probably feel and think what she’s feeling and thinking.
I’m not suggesting that you completely agree with your partner, because you clearly don’t. I am suggesting that even though you don’t agree with parts of his assessment of the situation, you can see how he drew his conclusion.
“i don’t totally agree, but I get what you’re saying.”
This is a massive part of listening. You won’t agree, but you can understand. This can only be genuinely realized when you can step-back from your own emotions for a moment.
When my husband and I were both in our doctoral training, we decided to have children. (whole other story) He was in his internship year at the end of course work and it was intensive, involving him driving an hour each way to campus. I, on the other hand, was pregnant with our second child. (It’s important to mention that I suck at being pregnant. Sick, sick, sick. All the way through.) In addition, our first child was just a year old and had big sleeping issues.
It was not a happy time in our lives, let me tell you.
My husband came home from campus one day and told me how terrible his life was. He was angry and tired and overwhelmed. Remember, at that same time he was in internship, I was seeing my own clients, taking the largest part of the child care responsibilities for an under-sleeping one year-old and was sick as a dog with a pregnancy that made my life even more miserable. At that moment, I could have screamed myself. HIS life was bad?
But at that moment, I must have had a cosmic intervention. Instead of bursting out with my own tale of woe, I bit my tongue, promising myself that I’d tell him the next day about how crappy my own life was. At that moment, I forced myself to listen—just listen—to him.
When I talked with him the next day about my own challenges, he was actually pretty responsive. It often works this way when a person feels heard themselves.
Believe me, I know how hard it is to hear the other guy. Listening, however, is a very important part of loving. Give it a try.