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Increase the Chances You’ll Be Heard

Having a sense of being heard is part of the foundation of any healthy relationship.  When you don't have a sense of being heard, you might accuse the other person of doing it wrong.  Do you ever hear yourself saying the following? "You always have to make it about you.", "You're so defensive.", "You never listen.", "You don't get me."  All these things might be true.  Unfortunately telling someone they are doing it wrong doesn't typically inspire them to try harder.  What it usually inspires is a retort about what you are doing wrong.  You likely hear back something like this,  "Why do you have to complain so much?!"  "I will never get it right for you."  "You're attacking me."  "Your tone of voice is disrespectful."

Unchecked, these exchanges shape your interaction over time.  You don't want the defensive response so you hold back saying what you want to say.  The longer you hold back the more resentment builds and the more this shows up in your tone of voice when you finally do share.  Your tone of voice triggers the very reaction you wanted to avoid and then you react back.  You are left feeling frustrated and resentful and still longing to be heard.

You can get out of this cycle by taking responsibility to ask for and help create the listening you want.  Implicitly you might depend on context to tell your listeners what you want.  For example, roles like teacher, student, co-worker, doctor, patient, etc., often imply a certain kind of listening and sharing.  Your home with your partner is a particular context, but you likely take multiple roles with each other in that context like co-parent, lover, friend, housemate, financial planner, cook, maintenance person, etc.  In any given moment, the two of you might be focused on different roles.  For example, you come home one night looking for a friend at the end of a long day and your partner is busy cooking.  You share something hoping for a friendly conversation and your partner rolls his or her eyes wondering why you are talking when you should be helping with dinner.  Making sure you are in a shared context/role and that context supports the kind of conversation you want to have increases the chances you will be heard.

Once you are in a supportive and shared context, you can also increase the chances of being heard by naming the kind of conversation you want to have and asking your partner if s/he is available for that kind of conversation. This allows your partner to prepare to listen in a certain way.  For example, you might have something tender to share and you are really looking for loving presence and comfort, or you might be thinking over a decision at work and you are looking for your partner's perspective, or you might want to share something your partner did that didn't meet your needs and you are looking for empathy and collaboration.

Once your partner has expressed a genuine yes to your request to talk, you might still be nervous that what you want to share will be met with defensiveness.  It's helpful here to offer clarity that your intention is to connect and understand and not to blame or accuse. Sometimes reassurance is also helpful.  Reassurance might take many forms and really depends on what lands best for your partner.  Here are some possibilities:  

  • I am not feeling reactive.

  • Your needs matter to me.

  • I know your intentions are good.

  • I know you are devoted to our family and our life together.

  • I see that you are working hard to keep things going.

  • I know that you love me.

  • I love you.

Lastly, get clear for yourself what gives you a sense of being heard in a particular conversation and share that with your partner.  Here are some examples:

  • "Honey when I tell you I am feeling sick, I am looking for something simple in response like, 'Sorry you're sick, can I do anything?' or 'Sounds miserable' or just a kiss on my forehead."

  • "I want to share with you about my experience with your parents and at first I am just looking for empathy."

  • "I wonder if you are up for a business meeting?  I'd like to share the research I did on the mortgage and hear your ideas."

  • "This is a super tender topic for me so I am looking for your undivided attention and to hold your hand."

  • "I am excited about something and just want to celebrate with our happy dance."

When you share what kind of listening you want in the beginning, it's much easier to come back to what you need when your partner goes in a different direction.  

Here is the summary of a few ways you can increase your chances of being heard with your partner:

  1. Make sure you are in a shared and supportive context / role.

  2. Give your partner a heads up by telling them the kind of conversation you want to have before diving into it.

  3. Ask for an authentic yes or no regarding your partner's willingness to have the conversation at the time you are asking.

  4. Name your intention behind having the conversation.

  5. Offer reassurance about anything that your partner might have doubt or anxiety.

  6. Share clearly and explicitly what would give you a sense of being heard in that particular conversation.

Trying even one of these will dramatically increase your chances of being heard.  Take a moment now and choose one to practice in the coming week each time you come back together with your partner after being apart.

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