Just last week, a woman sent me an email saying, “I am so sad and frustrated that my husband doesn’t listen to what I say!”
Many couples who call us for coaching say they want help with their communication. They feel unheard and misunderstood. When they talk to their partners, they say they feel corrected, judged, criticized or shut down. Their partner tries to fix or change them; they deflect or get defensive. They report being tired of the escalated fights and disconnected interactions that prevent them from feeling the love and intimacy they crave in their relationships. Many are on the verge of considering separation and divorce to escape the loneliness and despair they feel in their marriages from not feeling heard by their partners.
More important than feeling loved
As coaches, we find that feeling understood and heard is often more important than feeling loved. Having the experience that someone knows us, feels us, sees us and accepts us is validating, empowering and soul nourishing. It is what allows us to feel connected to the people closest in our lives and to humanity as a whole. Without it, we can sink into feeling desperately alone, and if prolonged, escalate into believing that we don’t matter and life is meaningless.
I recently read Matthew McConaughey’s book, Greenlights. One of the stories he shares is of a visit with a monk during a particularly challenging time in his life. While the two of them walked, McConaughey poured everything out that he was experiencing, talking for several hours. When he finished, he waited for what he expected to be wise answers from this deeply spiritual man. After a period of silence, the monk simply responded, “Me too.”
Even as I write, the monk’s response of “Me too” touches a deep place in me. Feeling known and understood is so core to us as human beings. It is of vital importance to any successful relationship.
Listening is half the equation
Feeling known and heard relies on our ability not only to responsibly and vulnerably share our thoughts and feelings, but also on our ability to effectively listen. We sometimes forget about the importance of listening as we generally focus on what we want to say when we consider the topic of communication. But listening is half of the equation! Unfortunately, listening does not come easy for most. Why? Because it requires that we temporarily step inside another person’s world and see things from another’s point of view.
We can’t help but see things from our point of view. All of reality is experienced through our own senses, then rinsed, filtered and processed through our own values, beliefs and past experiences. We assume that we are right in our way of thinking, and mistakenly believe that if we acknowledge someone else’s experience or reality, it will negate our own. This is the source of much defensiveness and argumentativeness in relationships.
When we can instead “expand to include” both our own and another’s point of view side by side, we can’t help but be enriched by one another. I am reminded of the blind men and the elephant parable, where each blind man feels only a portion of the giant animal (leg, head, trunk, etc.) and then concludes that his version of “elephant” reality is the entirety of what an elephant looks like. In actuality, all the blind men need each other’s perspectives to arrive at a more accurate description of an elephant.
Similarly, when we can listen to another’s point of view, we not only help ourselves see what we do not know, but we form bridges to the hearts and minds of others who on the surface may appear to be very different from us.
You can become a better listener
There are many things we can do to help ourselves to become good listeners in relationship. We can …
- Schedule times to talk and listen when it works for us to slow down and focus.
- Practice not reacting or responding when our partner says something (listen to understand, not to respond).
- Allow pauses between statements.
- Paraphrase back what we are hearing to be sure we are understanding what is being said.
- Ask questions in a mood of curiosity.
- Close our eyes and listen to our partner as if we didn’t know them, to help us drop into a fresh space of loving compassion.
- Switch roles and speak as our partner.
We can also help our partner to hear us in several ways. We can …
- Ask our partner if it’s a good time to talk. If not, we can schedule a time that works for both of us.
- Speak concisely—stay on topic and convey the most important points (avoid saying “always and never”. Resist bringing up the past.)
- Make “I” statements and talk only about our own thoughts and feelings (avoid blame and criticism and make wrong.)
- Pause between statements and ask our partner to repeat back to us what he or she heard. If it’s correct, let our partner know and continue. If he or she missed it, say it again.
- Stay in there and continue until we feel completely heard.
- Appreciate our partner for their efforts and thank them for their willingness to give us the gift of listening.
Remember that listening is a skillset you can develop, and once learned, will dramatically improve the quality of your relationships!
Learn the skill set of listening
If you would like to improve your ability to listen and feel heard, please join us for our virtual mini-workshop, “How to Feel Heard in Your Relationship”. It’s a concentrated step-by-step course in how to feel heard and how to listen so your partner feels heard.
LoveWorks: We believe relationships are meant to be an empowering, fun, passionate, safe place to grow, love, and learn. Where we get to be more of who we are, not less. We know it’s not always easy, but it can definitely be easier! With our unique and practical approach to relationship, you learn how to resolve conflicts quickly and enjoy fulfilling intimacy for the rest of your life. To learn more visit us at www.loveworkssolution.com.