“You aren’t listening to me…”
Everyone hears this at times in their relationships. I’ve experienced it myself. Becoming a better listener is one of the best places to start improving your relationship.
Do you and your partner talk about the day’s events? Let’s use that “how was your day?” conversation as an opportunity to support them and hopefully get their support in return. Here are 7 steps to let your partner know you hear them and appreciate them:
1 Stay focused and interested – phone down and eyes up. I feel your pain. It’s tough to pull yourself out of an (let’s admit it – insignificant) internet rabbit hole and come back to the real world for this conversation. It sounds simple, but you need to turn toward your partner, make eye contact, and get rid of the distractions.
2 Take turns. Each person will have their turn to vent or announce the wins of the day. Let your partner have their full turn to discuss those things thoroughly and get the validation they need from you before you take your time at center stage.
3 Don’t go into “fix it” mode. This is where guys are well-intentioned but go wrong most often. It’s not as bad as mansplaining but isn’t far off in terms of an unforced guy error. Let your partner get everything off their chest. If they really want your input or solution, they’ll ask for it. Let me repeat this – If they really want your input or solution, they’ll ask for it.
4 Show that you understand what they are communicating by empathizing with them. If you’re not sure what to say, you could use some of your partner’s words like “it sounds like you were really upset with them” or use phrases like “I’d feel the same exact way” or “I agree with you. That was awful.” “That’s fantastic. You worked so hard.”
5 Take their side. When someone is just breaking the good or bad news you do not want to immediately jump to second guessing or critiquing what has happened. Let them air everything out and be heard so they know that you’re on their side through active listening (non-judgmental, patient, verbal and non-verbal signs of listening, asking for clarification, summarizing). They need to know that it’s you two against the world when things go off the rails or that you’re their biggest cheerleader when things go well. If you have any concerns go over them after you get all the information or connect later if they are clearly not ready to discuss them right away.
6 Show affection. Hug them. Hold them. Help them feel better.
7 Validate their feelings. You let them know their feelings are justified. If you have not already made it clear you need to make sure your partner feels like they’ve been heard and understood. Could you repeat to someone else what they are going through and why they feel the way they do?
After your partner has been able to get everything on the table and feels heard and validated, you can recount your trials, tribulations and wins from the day. Some of this may feel awkward at first. “Fake it until you make it” and it will start to feel more natural to you over time. These suggestions are a modified version of ones in the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman and Nan Silver which is a great resource that I often recommend to my clients in long term relationships.
If you’re interested in getting more helpful information, you can subscribe by using the form below to get an email each time I post a new article.
If you would like personalized help with your communications skills or relationship issues, please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.