At times, as much as we try to have a wonderful relationship, when it comes to communication it feels as if we are speaking two different languages. Next you will find four tips that will make all the difference:
1. Listen with your imagination
Let’s be honest, when we are in the listening role, most times what we are truly doing is thinking on how to help solve the problem, what advice to give or what helped us when something similar happened to us. We end up doing everything but listening. This is why, next time your partner wants to share something that is important to them try doing the following: listen with your imagination. When we imagine what the other person is sharing, we are being empathic, or, said in a different way, we are putting ourselves in their shoes. By imagining not only what they say but the emotions they are sharing, you are keeping your mind busy enough so it doesn´t deviate in finding solutions and not truly listening.
2. Acknowledge and validate
It’s not really that we don’t know how to listen, but we don’t like to see our partner going through hard times because it’s painful to see the person we love stressed, suffering or disappointed. Nonetheless, it takes courage and vulnerability for your partner to open up and share their inner experiences and jumping to solutions could leave your partner with a feeling of being rejected. This is why step two is acknowledge and validate your partner and their experiences. Let yourself be impacted by what they are going through. By doing this you’ll be able to do step 2 in a natural way. Take some time to think about this, imagine how society would be if instead of saying the annoying phrase: “Everything will be ok” we would say: “I can see how hard this is for you, thank you for opening up and letting me be here for you while you go thought this”. By doing step 2 in an authentic way, what you will notice is that your partner will open even more because they truly feel you are there for them.
Another way to acknowledge your partner can be by noticing the qualities they are showing that are helping them get through the tough situation. These are normally characteristics that by being in the midst of the roller-coaster, your partner isn´t able to see. By recognizing them, they will feel acknowledge and truly seen. For example: “You are being perseverant”, “You are brave”, “You are being authentic”.
3. Give them space, let them dictate the rhythm
Often times, when we are listening we think we are the ones who need to manage the atmosphere. If my partner is expressing indignation or anger, I feel I need to calm them down. If they are feeling blue, I need to bring optimism. But most likely what I end up doing is trying to control and as a consequence I unconsciously end up asphyxiating or reducing their possibility of expressing their inner experience. Let your partner guide the rhythm according to their needs. This is not only when our partner is agitated but also when they are taking a moment of silence. There is a big temptation to interrupt long pauses and this is another way of taking away space. When we take long moments of silence and apparently nothing is happening, we are digesting emotions and processing.
Another way to give space to your partner so they feel free to express themselves is to observe their physical expressions, their posture and their gaze. Having your attention in what they are communicating in these other ways can be a great form of listening and it will allow you to be guided by their rhythm.
4. Don´t put them in a box
The biggest reason why it´s so hard to truly open up and share our difficulties is because we don´t want to be labeled. If you want to love your partner by listening to them, it can´t be with prejudice. This also means that what your partner says during that time will not have repercussions in your perception of them. It’s as if they are writing in sand, everything will be erased with the next wave of the ocean, as if it didn´t exist beyond that moment and context. This means you will not bring what they share to future discussions trying to justify yourself: “You are going crazy AGAIN!”
Even if we are only judging with our thoughts, they can be perceived through our attitude, our tone of voice and physical gestures and by the way we approach a person.
Tip 4 is the key to a healthy and long relationship: if we don´t label our partner, thus allowing them to be a new person every day, through the years we will still be discovering who they are. There will be less baggage and more space for curiosity, freedom, respect and love.