Listening to Each Other, Part 2: Couples
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
How Can We Listen Better to Each Other?
When you are talking to your sweetheart, do you sometimes hear yourself saying something that you regret? Do you lose your temper easily and lose focus on what the current topic of discussion is? Wouldn't it be a lot better to have a conversation that leads to better understanding of each other, rather than build up the walls of resistance and anger towards each other?
Last time we talked about how to talk to children, but I should have posted this first. Why? Because children learn their communication styles by watching how we talk to others, in part. If they see us yelling at our spouses or partners, they will learn that that's acceptable. If they see us use "indoor voices" and show respect towards each other, that will be more normal to them as instead. If you want your child to be respectful to you and to their future friends and partners, it is up to you to model that behavior when you interact with others.
"But it's hard!" You may counter. Sometimes interacting with romantic partners brings up old issues from the past when you didn't get your needs met by your caregivers. That can amplify the importance of the conversation for you, and make it harder to calm down when you get upset. You might shut down because you are so upset, or yell and scream, or hurl insults at your partner. All these behaviors are common, but probably not the healthiest way to communicate with your partner, right?
Here are some don'ts in conversing with your partner, some of which might be obvious but they're common enough that I am including them in the list:
Don’t move in a way toward your partner that is threatening to him or her, such as blocking them physically, throwing things, raising your fist, or standing over the person and pointing at them with your finger. If you’re doing this, please get help immediately. This is verbal abuse and teeters on the edge of physical abuse. I don’t want you or anyone else to get hurt.
Don’t follow a person from room to room if they are trying to leave the room to cool down emotionally. Give them the space to collect themselves and take some time for yourself as well.
Don’t talk to your partner worse than you would talk to a police officer, business associate, or another adult with whom you are not as familiar. If you can speak politely and respectfully to those people, you are capable of doing the same for the person you claim to love.
Don’t keep repeating yourself and working yourself up emotionally. Do take time to assess whether you’re being heard, and if you don’t think you are, then ask “I don’t think you are understanding me. Could you please repeat to me what you think I’m saying?”
Don’t expect the other person to agree with you just because they understood what you said. They are still another separate human being with their own ideas and mind. They are your equals. They are allowed to disagree.
Don’t wait several years of communicating poorly to seek help. It’s a waste of your time and money, and by the time you do seek help, it might be too late. Get help before you start communicating like you despise each other.
Do check out Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD. He can explain how to communicate in a respectful, responsible way with just about anyone close to you.
Hopefully this helps set some ground rules. Two other great books to check out are Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, PhD and Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman, PhD and Nan Silver. I wish you happy communicating with your loved ones, especially your life partners.