Listen In Ways That Your Partner Will Feel Heard
You know something is missing. Granted you know that you love each other, but you feel your relationship is boring. Somehow you just don’t relax together in the same way. You’ve both noticed it, but when you do sit down together, you find that things slip too easily into conflicting opinions about almost anything. Sometimes you can easily slip into some real fighting when you meant to get close. You both may give up and watch tv.
Most couples feel like this at times. If, however, you are working on growing closer and not doing it, the time has come for a different kind of interaction. Remember the old proverb: “if you keep doing the same old thing in the same old way you will get the same results.” Something radical needs to interrupt the old cycle.
Let’s start with what you probably can admit to inside. If you stop and think about it, don’t you simply want someone to appreciate what it is like to be you. Don’t you want a best friend, to know you well enough to understand what something means to you, someone who doesn’t need to judge you, someone who doesn’t need to tell what you should have been doing, and most of all someone who doesn’t need to interrupt you until you feel like your friend has totally gotten you.
You can guess where I am going here. You can probably make a safe bet that you partner wants the same thing. The only problem is that you both need this careful listening at the same time. You will tend to feel criticized when the other is sharing their experience of what’s wrong. You find it almost impossible to listen to someone you love tell you how something that you have done has hurt him.
Again every couple faces this challenge. What skill set will enable you to approach each other in a different way? Let’s call it deep listening. If you use a particular structure for being with each other at these times, you avoid this distance and gain a new sense of intimacy.
First see if you can identify who’s feeling stronger. You can each give a number to identify how needy you feel you are. On a scale of one to ten, name the number that comes closest to your present feeling of vulnerability with one representing hardly able to care about anyone but yourself, and ten being feeling great and willing to take on any challenge.
Let the person with the highest score agree to graciously grant the floor to the other.
Let the person with the highest score agree to graciously grant the floor to the other. And now the instruction will sound ridiculously simple. Don’t be fooled, the following will challenge you more than you may expect.
Let the more vulnerable feeling partner, simply begin with the statement, “Let me tell you what it’s like to be me.” As this partner you may share almost anything if you simply seek to use a formula that goes like this. When such and such happens, I begin to imagine such and such, and then I find myself feeling such and such. An example of this would be: “When you got mad at me the other night, I started to imagine that you did not care about me, and I started to feel hurt and abandoned.” Another example would be, when you began coming home later than you promised, I imagined you didn’t want to come home, so I started to feel scared that you might be leaving me.
This formula allows you to describe a specific happening in an objective way, than to own the fantasy you begin to have about the event and then to name the feeling of hurt, disappointment or concern. It’.s best if you can stay away from using a variation of anger if you can. Anger usually is a defense that hides the softer emotion that will invite your partner to feel closer to you. Sharing the softer emotion of hurt, abandoned, or lonely will leave your partner able to sympathize with you rather than getting defensive.
Now as the stronger partner, you are simply challenged to nod, and say, “Let me see if I get you.” This moves beyond just what I hear you saying, or let me summarize your point of view, but indicates your wish to hear the deepest part of what your beloved is putting on the table about what it’s like to be her or him.
Then simply repeat what you have heard almost in the exact same words with no elaboration or defensiveness. You simply summarize the experience of your partner by saying, “Let me see if I got you. When you noticed that I didn’t take call you about the change of plans, you imagined that I didn’t care much about you and your felt sad? Did I get you?” Adding this phrase at the end, allows your partner, to either mention a part of what was not emphasized in your summary or to say yes and even go differently.
Expect that your partner will not feel as though you got it all. There are many nuances and when he hears you play it back, he might have connected to something new that needs to be added. Listening in this way, allows your partner to continue to unravel what’s really at the heart of what it’s like to be her.
Remember during the time you grant your partner the floor, you want him to feel that you really want to hear and care about what he yearns to say. You don’t have to agree with him or contradict him. You simply need to listen with the care that allows you summarize the nuances of what’s being shared with you as your partner’s best friend. Treat it with care and love and the reward will be manifold.