Listening takes work. It is not the same as simply hearing what someone has to say. Sometimes we’re so busy planning what we’re going to say in response, that we aren’t really listening to what our partner has to say. Or … we think if we let our partner know we understand what they’re saying (and thinking, feeling, wanting, etc.) they will think we agree with them … but this isn’t true!
Listening well and letting our partner know we’ve heard them and understand what they’re saying makes them feel VISIBLE, VALUED and VALIDATED… and much more likely and willing to listen to us when it’s our turn. When we feel understood, we are far more open to hearing what our partner has to say.
Communicate with Respect
This may seem like a simple thing to do, but when we’re angry or frustrated with our spouse, or even just busy with something else, we sometimes forget to be kind and respectful to one another. How do we communicate respect for our partner and his or her feelings, thoughts? If you watch and listen to couples who are kind and respectful to each other, even in the midst of a heated discussion, you begin to observe the following behaviors:
• They listen without judgment.
• They avoid saying things like: “That’s ridiculous!” “You’re crazy!” “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” “That’s stupid!” “You don’t really feel that way”, etc. They don’t say things for the purpose of hurting, humiliating, shaming, or diminishing their partner … and if they unintentionally say something that does make their partner feel bad, they take responsibility for that and validate his or her feelings.
• They refrain from calling each other names.
• They don’t order each other around. They ask. They make requests.
• They avoid using things that their partner has shared with them in confidence (things that may make him/her feel vulnerable) against their partner at another time. (i.e. during an argument)
• They don’t make assumptions or mindread. See below for more on this.
• They don’t tell their partner why he or she is doing something. Usually when we do this, we are attributing a negative motivation to their behavior. “You didn’t remember my birthday on purpose!”
• They don’t get in their partner’s space/face and scream at him/her or in any other way try to intimidate their partner.
• They don’t mimic their partner or make fun of him or her.
• They don’t use humor/jokes as a way to belittle their partner.
• They are respectful of their partner both in front of others and while they’re alone.
• They think about what they’re going to say and the impact it will have.
Sometimes we think we know what our partner is feeling, thinking, wanting, needing, etc. when we really don’t. It’s amazing how often a husband or wife will say to the other: “You don’t know me at all!” It’s important that we not assume that we know what’s going on with our partner, but that we try to find out instead. It’s also important that we don’t feel or say: “If you really loved me, you’d know what I want … how I feel” … etc. We can never really be sure what another person is thinking or feeling.
We also can’t expect someone else to know how we feel loved and cared for. Most people try to show love and care for their partners in the ways that they themselves feel loved and cared for. We need to find out what makes our partner feel special, valued, loved, etc. This doesn’t take the romance out of a marriage … it does just the opposite!