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“I don’t feel heard.”
How many times have we said this in our intimate relationships? How many times do we feel as if we’re talking to a brick wall?
We might have been talking to a brick wall after all because most of us struggle with listening to our partner. We listen to reply, to prove our point, to win an argument. We rarely listen to understand or learn more about the situation at hand.
Communication is important, but if it’s not effective, it could be as destructive as noncommunication. That said, we need to be better listeners if we want better and healthier relationships.
Now I know you think you’re a good listener. I know I am—until I’m in the middle of a conversation with my partner and I feel the urge to interrupt him and a friendly chat turns into a heated argument and the next I know we’re sitting on separate couches and not talking to each other.
So, are you really a good listener?
Listening requires a lot of awareness and the ability to remove our ego from the conversation. This is why it feels challenging to listen because whether we like or not, our ego always likes to make an appearance. Especially if we come from a dysfunctional family or one where we struggled to feel loved and validated as kids, we are likely to be bad listeners because we’re the ones who want to feel heard.
This is how successful communication turns into successful miscommunication: two human beings so desperately wanting to feel heard that they end up not listening to each other.
Before delving into the details, I would like to stress the importance of listening to ourselves first. Without a good, solid relationship with ourselves, without healing our childhood wounds and making peace with them, we will always find it difficult to peacefully converse with our partner.
Consequently, if you want to be a better listener to your partner, challenge yourself and break the walls that have been preventing you from listening. What is it that you need the most? Is it love, attention, validation? What was missing in your childhood that you’ve been trying to find or recreate in your own partnership? When you feel like interrupting or proving your partner wrong, what is it that you’re seeking?
Now that we are slowly learning how to process our past traumas, we can practice a few things that might help us become better listeners:
Pause before interrupting. When you feel like interrupting your partner (even if what they’re saying doesn’t make sense to you), pause and take a deep breath. Remember that it’s their time to express their deepest feelings/concerns/thoughts and we have to respect it.
Put yourself in their place. If you find it hard to not interfere, put yourself in their place. How would you feel if you were interrupted? We all know the answer.
Choose supportive words. The words we choose in our conversations could either be helpful or extremely hurtful. Once we have effectively listened to our partner, it’s best to reply with words that validate them, such as, “I understand how you feel,” “It makes sense what you’re saying,” “I see where you’re coming from,” “I feel you,” “I hear you,” and so on.
Ask questions. If we want to really listen to our partner, we have to get more information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that could initiate further discussions. Questions like “How do you feel about it,” “What is it that you need?” “What’s behind this?” “Can you be more clear? I don’t think I understand,” and “Is there something else you’d like to share with me?” could bring partners closer.
You don’t have to agree. No one has to win and no one has to be right. Remember, we don’t have to agree; we need to validate. Understanding our partner is more important than agreeing with them. Feel free to calmly and respectfully disagree without starting off a fight.
Maintain eye contact. And please don’t check your phone. The most important part of listening is to be in the present moment with our partner and give them our full attention.
Be kind. Listen with kindness. Listen without judging your partner. Listen with openness. Listen without bias. See things from their perspective, even if it seems difficult.
Effective listening strengthens our intimate relationships. Let’s open our hearts and opt to have a thriving and powerful love bond.