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How to Listen So Your Partner Will Talk

Communicating is Not Optional How to Listen So Your Partner Will Talk

The #1 problem in relationships is "Undelivered Communications!" Withholding important conversation from your partner nearly always proves to be the destructive force behind the, "My partner will not listen to me!" or "My partner will not talk to me" complaint.

Instead of complaining, deliver the communication - in a loving way - to your partner.

We withhold for many reasons. The main reason seems to be that when we do get up the courage to say what needs to be said - something our partner would rather not hear - our partner gets into the conversation and begins to deny or justify their position. "Let the disagreement begin!" Usually, the decibel level goes off the meter and the argument escalates! The result would be different if both partners would only listen when their partner speaks.

Communicating is not optional. It is an absolute necessity for the success of the relationship. Not communicating with your relationship partner - or not allowing them access to your thoughts and feelings - can exact a heavy price. A communications gap doesn't only undermine the potential of the relationship; it can, and usually will eventually destroy the relationship.

The sound of silence in a relationship is deafening. The silent treatment sends many messages - "I'm not interested," "I have nothing of value to say," "Whenever I say something you argue with me," "I give up. . . what's the use?" and more.

What stops you from communicating is not making a decision to do so. "Take all the time you need to decide, but the ice cream is melting!"

When your partner decides to communicate with you, he/she does so to fulfill a need.

Everyone manages emotion, communication and conflict from habit - patterns and styles developed early in life. In this context the past greatly affects your present relationship. To have a happy and successful relationship, you need to take control of how you interact with your partner.

It is my opinion that some of the greatest needs of human beings - after physical survival - is to be understood, affirmed, validated, forgiven and appreciated. The best way to get your needs met is to communicate those needs.

Never assume that your partner knows how you feel. People tend to rely heavily on assumptions to communicate. The problem with that is that you can't be sure if someone's assumptions are the same as yours, unless you communicate. Your partner cannot read your mind. Hints don't work.

Your methods of communication are more important than the messages themselves. Your tone of voice is also more important than what you say.

There is no such thing as a relationship without conflict! Some conflicts are small. Others are colossal and difficult to manage. How you resolve the conflict, not how many occur, is the critical factor in determining whether a relationship will be healthy or unhealthy, mutually satisfying or unsatisfying, friendly or unfriendly, deep or shallow, intimate or cold.

In the midst of a disagreement, we often have ears that listen with prejudiced views. Learn how to speak so your love partner will hear what you are really saying.

You get a higher return on your relationship investment by communicating openly and honestly. Reach an agreement to talk about anything and everything, all the time. It's a promise that may be difficult to keep, however the fact that the promise is in place makes your commitment to it much easier to keep.

When you shut down and your partner feels the need to call your attention to this promise, you are more likely to get back on track and less likely to be upset by it because of your initial agreement.

It takes courage to talk about something you know your partner would rather not discuss especially if you know that in the past it has nearly always sparked an argument that ended with no resolution and hurt feelings.

A Way to Communicate Difficult Feelings with Each Other

When coaching couples about how to better communicate, I recommend the following process. Here's how it works:

Step #1. The first night - It's your time to talk and your partner's time to only listen.

Step #2. The next night - Your partner talks and you only listen.

Step #3. The third time you get together is two or three days later - Have a mutual, low decibel level, interactive conversation (two-way communication) intended to reach some mutually agreeable solutions. This part of the process is about negotiating a win-win situation.

This protocol helps you to avoid the pitfalls - hostility, defensiveness, contempt, retaliation, and withdrawal - so typical of many disagreements. Only one person at a time "has the floor" each night in steps 1 and 2.

The intention of this process is twofold:

1. To help you learn to better communicate what needs to be said.

2. To help you be a committed listener when you partner needs to communicate with you.

If you want the emotional healing that can come from voluntary disclosure to your partner, you must probe your feelings and emotions with renewed passion. Be aware that past traumas and the memory demons that accompany them are real and they contain trapped energy that must be reclaimed for you to feel happy and powerful.

It takes a lot of energy to remain confused. If you feel stuck, perhaps it's time to get clear about confusion. As long as you remain confused, you will not have to commit to and/or take responsibility for a plan of action such as communicating with your partner.

Trapped energy causes you to cling to misconceptions about your relationship. This process will help you convert painful emotional energy into powerful energy you can use to move your relationship forward. Once the precious energy that was trapped as a painful experience becomes free, it can then be expressed as forgiveness, goodness, beauty and love.

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Attitude is everything. Begin with the right frame of mind. You must approach this process as two equal partners working together to solve a problem.

Flip a coin to see who goes first. If possible, choose a time when things seem to be going rather smoothly, no lingering disagreements in the air, no anger. Arrange to meet in a quiet place where there will be no interruptions.

Be very clear about the "just listen" part of this process. One night "she" talks and "he" only listens and the next night "he" talks and "she" only listens. Bring some notes to keep you from getting lost, forgetting your point or the intention of the process.

What issues are relevant to your relationship - really relevant? Speak the relevant truth. What is important to your relationship right now? The answer to these questions will assist you in only speaking about what affects your relationship currently. To bring up irrelevant past issues is inconsistent with this process.

It's time to openly and honestly communicate by telling the truth about what has been missing in your relationship that has brought you to this point in time.

Before you begin, ask yourself this question: "Do you want to be right or happy?" Privately address each issue with the question, "Will this be important to me tomorrow, next week, next month?" "Is it all that important in the whole scheme of things?" Once you have answered these questions honestly, you will then know what issues are truly important and the order of their importance.

Step #1 - When it's your turn to talk:

Begin by telling your partner how much you love them. Be sincere.

Let them know how you are feeling about being in a relationship with them. Make your comments germane to the issues you present. Be specific, not general about how you feel. This is your opportunity to really be heard, don't leave anything out.

Choose your words carefully and say them in a loving way. It's okay to come with notes so you won't forget anything. You may even want to rehearse a bit by first writing down how you really feel, then edit your notes to be sure you don't use this opportunity to attack your partner, but only express how you feel.

Clarify your feelings. Don't be accusatory about your upset. Begin by presenting the issues that have caused the most difficulty like this:

"When you (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank)."

This is important. By saying it this way, you avoid blaming your partner for anything; you shift the emphasis to your feelings. There is a big difference. Your comments are not about them or what is wrong with them, but about how you are feeling. Owning your feelings is more truthful and always less hurtful to your partner. This helps open the door to clearer and more productive communications with your partner.

When using "I" messages you take responsibility for your own feelings, rather than accusing the other person of making you feel a certain way. It also may prevent your partner from becoming immediately defensive or intimidated.

No one can argue with your feelings. They are your feelings and you get to choose them. "You" messages begin the "blame game." Avoid this deadly game like the plague.

Feelings are emotions, and sensations, and they are different from thoughts, beliefs, interpretations, and convictions. When difficult feelings are expressed, the sharp edges are dulled, and it is easier to release or let go of the bad feeling.

You can also change your mind about how you feel. That is also only and always your choice.

If your partner is guilty of doing things that need to be forgiven, this is the time to offer forgiveness. You may want to ask for forgiveness too. Offer this as part of your opportunity to share. Read: "Forgiveness... What's it For?"

Do not make your message too complex, either by including too many unnecessary details or too many other issues. Although there is no time limit, it is not wise to drone on and on for hours. Thirty minutes to one hour is appropriate.

In closing, present a list of 10 things you love about your partner and make it part of the conversation. When you have said what you need to say, reassure your partner that you do love them and would like for both of you to continue to work together to communicate better.

Lovingly express to your partner how it felt to have them be a committed listener. You might say:

"Thank you for listening to how I feel about our relationship. It feels good to know that you care enough to hear what I have to say. Thank you. I love you."

Give them a hug and do not have any further conversation together about it that night.

Step #2 - When it's your turn to only listen:

Communication is the singular activity we all share. Expressing our needs, wants, thoughts, feelings and opinions clearly and effectively is only half of the communication process needed for interpersonal effectiveness. The other half is listening and understanding what others communicate to us.

Empathic listening gets inside your partner's frame of reference. You begin to see the relationship the way they see it, you understand their paradigm, and you begin to understand how they feel. It is human nature to want to work with, not against, someone who understands you.

Communicating is Not Optional How to Listen So Your Partner Will Talk

Being inattentive indicates a lack of interest in what your partner is saying and possibly the relationship. Pay attention. This you must do for this process to work.

Listening must also be intentional. When you are not intentional about listening, you only hear about half of the conversation, if that much. It would be wise to assume that one-sided conversations do not work. Intentional listening can only be effective and only occurs when you listen without expectations of what will be said and without judgment of what was said or for what reason it was said.

To be a committed, empathic, intentional and thoughtful listener is to demonstrate a high degree of respect for your partner. Good communication is not about allowing your relationship to function on autopilot; it's about being intentional about saying what needs to be said and listening thoughtfully to what is spoken.

Practice this process and not only will your communication methods be improved, but the content of your messages will get better too. You will learn to talk with - not "to" - each other more clearly and effectively.

This process does not allow you to talk when it's your partner's time to talk. You have nothing to say, nothing to fix, no denials, no justifications, no answering, no explaining, no nothing. You only listen.

No smirks that may signify belittlement or disagreement. Facial gestures and not looking into the eyes of your partner are inappropriate. If you can only say, "Hmmmm," "Say more about that," "What else?" without an attitude, then do it. Otherwise, it is much better to say nothing.

The purpose of saying nothing is to honor your partner's right to express their thoughts and feelings. Listen. Show respect.

When listening, resist the urge to formulate your own rebuttal to what your partner is saying. This will only inhibit your ability to truly hear what is being said. Pay attention. Put aside your own personal beliefs, judgments, evaluations and notions about what is being said.

It's okay to take an occasional note while your partner is talking if you need to remember to spend some time thinking about a particular point or to let them know how you feel about it when it is your turn to talk.

Identify the distinction between merely hearing the words and really listening for the message. When we listen effectively we understand what the person is thinking and/or feeling from your partner's own perspective. It's called empathy.

Your own viewpoint may be different and you may not necessarily agree with your partner, but as you listen, you begin to gain a better understanding of the feelings of your partner.

The only thing you get to say comes after your partner concludes and that is:

"I listened carefully to what you said and I appreciate the opportunity to only listen. I will continue to do my best to be a better listener. Thank you. I love you."

This acknowledges that you were listening.

After you both have had some time to absorb the information your partner has presented, it will be time for you to both talk and both listen and reach some workable solutions.

When both of you have had your turn speaking, you must agree to get together to mutually discuss solutions to the issues you have together. Think about what your partner communicated to you.

Step #3 - Have a mutual, low decibel level, interactive conversation:

If you have appreciated being listened to by your partner, then the first time you both enter into a two-way conversation about your issues, it will be different than previous conversations, hopefully more on target, with an intention to work together.

No raising of voices. Be calm and collected. No "shooting or shouting matches!" It's about mutual respect.

This is also a time to ask for clarification if you did not fully understand any of your partner's comments. Do your best to reach some agreeable solutions about your top two or three issues. Do not attempt to fix all your issues in one session.

When you cannot find an alternative solution that you can agree on, look for an option that is acceptable to both of you, or negotiate an agreeable compromise. Neither gets everything he/she wanted, but each gets enough to be satisfied.

Look at all options. There is never only one solution to every problem. Do your best to translate the big picture into specific actions that you can mutually agree upon. A common mistake is focusing too much on what you might lose and not enough on what you both could gain.

You will most likely need to schedule more time to talk over remaining issues as well. You also may need to schedule additional time to be listened to. I recommend that you do this process more than once to get accustomed to treating your partner with respect when they have something to say.

Two-way communication breaks down when either partner fails to communicate in return or when one partner holds on to being "right" about their position without any regard for the happiness of the relationship.

If you experience a break down during the conversation and it deteriorates because both of you become so emotionally distraught over an issue that neither of you can effectively function, declare a "time-out."

If you want to doom this process to failure, keep talking when you are angry. That doesn't work! Agree to cool off, and come back to talk the next day. It's important to decide on a time to continue.

If no resolution can be reached, perhaps it will be time to schedule a relationship coaching appointment to have a third-party assist in negotiating the situation.

When emotionally charged disagreements occur in the future, and they will, stop short of name-calling, verbal assault, blaming, etc., and take a time-out to think about what the disagreement is "really" about. Next, use this process to help you get back on track and watch your relationship go from mediocre to magical.

Communicating is Not Optional How to Listen So Your Partner Will Talk

Old habits die hard, and a couple trying this process for this first time usually will find it an exhausting experience. Communicating requires a sustained commitment.

It takes 21 to 30 days to establish a new habit. It is a wise couple who will makes plans to take time every day to share loving conversation with their partner. Having a specific time each day is another important factor that helps to assure the other that the conversation will take place.

Remember, relationships are something that must be worked on "all the time," not only when they are broken and need to be fixed.

Also remember to mutually agree upon a signal that you can use when one partner begins to get off track, raise their voice, rehash the past, etc. This is very important. Give the "time-out" signal. Say with a gentle voice and a forced smile, "You're doing it again" and calmly walk away from the conversation.

Treat each other with kindness. Catch your partner doing something right and acknowledge them for it. Look for the good in your partner, rather than focus on what you don't like or dwell on past mistakes.

The next time you're feeling frustrated about your relationship, relax and stop trying to make everything perfect. Learn to accept the things you cannot change. Being too active about pursuing change limits your ability to enjoy those aspects of your relationship that are already good. 

There is no future in the past. Once you have completed this process, bringing up old stuff over and over again only and always reopens the wound. What you think about and speak about, you bring about. Think only "good" thoughts about your partner and watch what happens.

Never criticize, condemn or complain. Avoid the "blame game." It's easy to blame your partner, however, relationship problems are shared problems. Accept responsibility for your share of the problem and communicate this to your partner.

These are great guidelines to follow and difficult at best, however, doing so will help you communicate more clearly and effectively, contribute greatly to the success of your relationship and help you move beyond the #1 problem in relationships. . . undelivered communications.

Communication is a requirement for a healthy, wholesome, happy and successful relationship. There is no other way. This process will help you create a safe, trusting place to speak openly with your partner.

Trust is the very foundation of a healthy love relationship. There can be no trust without conversation, no genuine intimacy without trust.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 11). How to Listen So Your Partner Will Talk, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, May 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/celebrate-love/communicating-is-not-optional-how-to-listen-so-your-partner-will-talk

Last Updated: June 7, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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