The way in which we speak and listen with our partners is crucial. There are good ways to communicate which lead to intimacy and connection, and bad ways, which promote defensiveness and disconnection. If your conversations are stuck, don’t go on doing the same harder!
You can change things by changing the way you communicate.
Rule One – stop talking about your partner; start talking about yourself. Frequently talking (or thinking) about your partner, instead of yourself promotes discord. “You forget ..” “You don’t like Jack.” “You say that because ..” This is called You Language. It turns your partner from listening to defensiveness, e.g. “I didn’t forget ..”, “I don’t say that because ..” You Language undermines relationships.
Talking exclusively about yourself encourages connection. “I got upset when I thought you forgot ..” “I like Jack and felt bad when you seemed to be saying ..” “I get confused and make up that you say that because ..” This is called I Language. It is more honest and can feel risky, yet it offers real connection.
We often spend listening time being triggered or being reactive, or defaulting to our own repeated negative narrative. If you are doing any of these, you cannot be listening properly, you will interrupt. The speaker will then feel unheard. Any kind of feeling unheard leads towards repeating, arguments, withdrawal, and disconnection.
Focus on what is being said with empathy. Forget yourself and get non-judgemental and curious about the speaker’s thoughts and whole feeling world – even if what they are saying is infuriating or hurtful. Validate what is being said. This takes restraint and practice; at times it feels impossibly hard to do. Yet even partial success is worth it, for we all want to be understood, and have our words taken seriously! Don’t always come back with your side of things in the same conversation.
What to do Next
It is you that can change this, even if your partner seems unwilling. Start small in one conversation by using one of these methods. Observe what happens. Learn and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
With thanks to Non-Violent Communication,
Imago Therapy, and
Rachael Pinney’s Creative Listening.
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