*Warning: working on these skills may have unintended side effects such as, but not limited to, agreeing with your partner when you were so sure you were right, upping your empathy game, and a rapid increase in both sexual and emotional intimacy*
How do you feel when someone dismisses your thoughts or ideas without really listening to them? Are you inclined, at that point, to listen to theirs? One of the hardest things to do in any relationship is to actually listen to your partner. Do you ever find yourself waiting for them to stop talking so that you can say your piece? How does that work for you? When it’s your turn to say words… how are they being received? One of the most effective ways to show your partner that you value and respect them is to validate their feelings. Does that mean that you have to agree with everything they say? Definitely not! BUT… it may go a long way toward getting your way if you take the time to really hear your partner’s perspective.
How can you do that? It’s easy to say, “I’m listening.” But listening is hard. Trust me, I’m a talker and I have had to learn how to stop waiting for my turn to talk. So hear me out for a minute, and if you practice what I preach, you too can learn to shut up and listen. (In real talk, I don’t always practice what I preach, so if you find me not listening and/or not validating you… say so!) What is the difference between listening and waiting for your turn to talk? Listening involves actively trying to hear what another person is saying with the intention of understanding from their perspective. It becomes obvious when one is just waiting to respond – interrupting, interjecting and defending yourself while your partner is still talking are a few giveaways. Try instead to…
1. Focus on what your partner is saying to you, without formulating a response before they have finished saying words.
This might create extra silence when they are done talking while you actually absorb what they have said to you and in that silence you may find that they continue. When people feel heard, it makes them open to say more things and as you listen to them, without judgment or defensiveness, you will often find that is enough to begin to alleviate some of their frustration.
2. Remember that it’s not about you right now.
You want to try to understand the situation from your partner’s point of view, not yours. It’s not about what you would do in a similar situation, it’s not about how you would feel if it were you, and it is definitely not about how you think your partner should feel.
3. Ask your partner to explain why they feel the way they do, or how they have come to a conclusion that doesn’t make sense to you.
Bearing in mind that, even though it may not make sense to you (yet), how they are feeling is very real to them and dismissing the said feeling as false will not likely dispel it. For example, if your partner says to you, “You don’t care about anything I have to say,” your instinct may be to defend yourself. You might be thinking, ‘Of course I do…” while feeling irritated that they don’t know that. Your first response may be to defend yourself and dismiss your partner’s feelings as false but the thing is, even if it isn’t ‘true’, if your partner feels that you don’t care about anything they have to say, and they tell you that… as I said, it is, however, real to them. Instead of becoming defensive, try to determine how they’ve come to that conclusion.
You may find upon closer inspection that you have been putting out signals that you didn’t even realize and you can take this opportunity to reassure your partner. Or your partner may be way off base and has misinterpreted something, in which case you can take this opportunity to rectify the misperception in a way that is mindful of your partner’s feelings. In either scenario, if you are not able to step outside of yourself to see what your partner is seeing, even if you don’t agree with it… it will only cause frustration for you both.
Once you’ve listened to your partner and tried to understand from their point of view, they are going to feel validated. It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with them – it means that what they say and how they feel matters to you (as it should) and that you want to be the kind of partner who shows that.