Decrease the Frequency and Intensity of Disagreements
Couples who continually improve on their ability to both listen and communicate with their partner have healthier relationships over couples who take these skills for granted. It won’t happen overnight. Every relationship has its own dynamics. How you communicate with your partner will be unique to your relationship. You will not communicate with your partner the same as you communicate with a friend or co-worker. It takes time and effort to master these skills within an intimate relationship.
If you continue to work on your communication, you will find that the frequency and intensity of disagreements dissipates overtime. This is because most disagreements stem from misunderstandings. Listening and communicating are key to avoiding misunderstandings.
Following are a few tips to help set the stage for better communication with your partner. By mastering these, you will have a foundation to build on as you continue to improve your ability to communicate with and understand your partner.
Sympathize with your partner’s feelings
You may not agree with how your partner is feeling about the situation, but you should sympathize with the fact that they feel that way. No one wants their partner to feel sad, angry, hurt, or disappointed. Don’t internalize your partner’s feelings or take their reaction personally. Don’t get defensive.
Simply realize that they are struggling and that you have a responsibility as their partner to make the best of the situation. Once you recognize their emotions, verbalize this to your partner. “I am sorry you are upset.” What can I do to make it better?”
This is different from taking responsibility for your partner’s emotions. It is different from taking the blame. Therefore, don’t use conditional words or phrases like ‘but I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.’ Otherwise, you will not sound sincere.
Listen without Judging
Everyone wants to be understood particularly during a heated discussion. If you are constantly interrupting or deflecting during a conversation, your partner will not feel understood. Listening is different from agreeing. You are welcome to your own feelings and understanding of what happened. Your partner’s point of view is also important.
Let your partner know you understand where they are coming from with words like “I understand you expected . . .” or “I can see how that might upset you.”
Again don’t use conditional words or phrases.
Repeat your partner’s words
It won’t take long into a conversation for you to understand what your partner is asking for. Make sure your partner knows you understand their request by repeating it in a compassionate and sympathetic tone. “Okay, I understand you want me to ______.”
Repeating their request is different from agreeing with it. You are verbalizing that you are listening. Doing this will also help you to slow down and avoid thinking about how to counter what your partner is saying which is unhelpful. It allows you to really process what your partner is saying vs passively listening.
Some couples may find they need a bit of help from a neutral third party. Couples therapy can provide a safe space for each partner to practice these listening skills. A trained therapist will be able to guide you and offer advice and adjustments.
If you and your partner are interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.