Listening properly and with genuine curiosity may be the single most enabling thing in making relationships work well. It sounds simple but is not!
When our partner says something that is hurtful or powerful for us, we tend to get triggered and reactive. We stop listening, interrupt and our partner gets annoyed or withdraws. The chance for mutual understanding and acceptance is lost.(See, The Brain and Relationship)
Good listening involves accepting how our partner is different from us. Accepting difference non-judgementally and unconditionally can be very hard, yet acceptance is a necessary and powerful way of expressing love. This does not mean that we must simply listen and let disagreements or hurts pass; we do not need to lose our voice or power.
Avoid those old conversations where you both feel misunderstood; try something new; try being a listener for a while:
- Suppress all of your reactivity. Your “Yes, but ..”, or “It was not like that ..” or “I just want to say ..”
- Don’t show reactivity in expression either: rising up your eyes, sighing, anger/glaring. Any reactivity brings defensiveness.
- Don’t interrogate; suppress your questions. Gift your partner with command of the subject matter; even if you have heard it before.
- “White knuckle” it through – even if your partner is “wrong“.
- Mirror. Check you have got it about every 90 seconds. Say “So you are saying..” or “I’m understanding you to say ..” then “Did I get you?”
- Don’t re-language or paraphrase too much. It is like sonar; when we hear it come back the same or similar, we know we have been heard.
- Avoid “parroting” by mimicking short bits with the same tone.
- Get curious, most of all about things that drive you mad. Instead of: ‘that’s stupid/untrue/nasty’, try ‘I wonder what this is like for him/her?’.
- When your partner stops ask, “Is there more about that?” – possibly the most enabling phrase in the English language.
- Then leave thinking time. If you have been affected, it is best to wait for up to an hour or even a day before responding.
Thanks to “Getting the Love You Want” by H. Hendrix,
Mirroring by D. Lipthrott,
Creative Listening by Rachel Pinney,
Bridges Not Walls by J Stuart,
Born For Love by M Svalavitz & D Perry.
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