When you feel seen and acknowledged, what’s that like? You feel pretty good, right?
If you notice someone looking at you, you straighten up and stand taller, adjusting yourself a bit; and if the person seeing you also loves and respects you, you feel a little glow. You shine brighter than if you were unnoticed. I hope you’ve had this feeling before, because it’s pretty heady, and perfectly lovely.
The same thing happens when you feel heard and understood. You don’t feel a need to carry on, or continue to strengthen your case, or to argue. When you feel heard, you rest assured that your words, your point of view, sunk in and made a difference. A natural byproduct of feeling heard is feeling understood – a small difference. Understanding depends on how well you are connected via values, family history and personality.
When you make your partner feel heard and (better) understood, then you will live in a space with a lot more peace.
On the other hand, there’s the dark side. If your partner feels like she’s not getting through, the friction is endless. The unheard spouse repeats herself, “nags,” lowers expectations, or eventually shuts down. If a spouse feels like nothing they say sticks, then why bother talking at all?
The benefits of learning how to listen so that someone feels heard and understood go far beyond an instant ceasefire. Good listeners are porous. They absorb words and phrases momentarily, so that the other person feels comfort and calm; but they don’t hang on to every point of conflict. The very act of listening ends the ceaseless chatter, and hurtful, careless language. When someone feels heard, there is less need to continue talking. The distinction between a good listener and a sounding board is that a good listener processes the words and concepts the speaker is trying to convey. Active listening is more creative than it looks!
Some problems that may arise:
One partner may feel he or she is listening and doing her best to understand while the other keeps wanting to explain and talk. The first that needs to happen is checking to make sure that the listener is actually understanding as much as they think they are. Maybe the speaker partner still doesn’t feel understood and that’s why they are still talking.
Another possibility is the second partner is simply chattier than the listener. So while the listener may feel that the person doesn’t respect their excellent listening skills, and their understanding is not appreciated; the talker, on the other hand, may overestimate the listener’s enjoyment of casual conversation.
An incompatible verbal/auditory couple can still thrive with each other as long as both feel heard when it matters, and to identify subjects where a little more effort will improve the communication.
Whether you are naturally verbal or inclined to an inward existence, you’ll make your partner feel heard and understood by simply following these five simple steps.
- Don’t interrupt. Let your spouse say all that she has to say. Relax your facial muscles so that you appear open and receptive. Really listen and try to understand what the other person is saying.
- Allow a pause – and let it land for a full beat before you start talking. It really takes some skill to do this, because most people naturally want to jump right in with a response, but there are valuable times when flexing this slow listening muscle is very good for everyone. You may find that you pick up on some nuances that you would have missed if you had jumped in with a reaction too soon.
- Repeat and rephrase statements back to the speaker, both during the conversation and later on, after some time has passed. Imagine how it will rock their world; if you bring up something your partner said during a conversation a week or two ago. Want to make your partner feel like gold? This is one way to do it. (Works on both men and women, by the way.)
- Ask questions, if it’s appropriate. You often know when someone just wants to tell a story and when someone wants help working through a problem. Adjust your questions accordingly. You don’t want to appear as the Inquisition. If you aren’t sure what your partner needs, ask “Would you like me to just listen or do you want some help with problem solving?”.
- Follow through with actions on your conversations. If you ended a conversation with an agreement, then stick to it. If you acknowledged something about your partner that alters the routine in some way, then by all means make that change instantly. Even mentioning that you are aware of the necessity for action has at least a short-term effect on your spouse’s well-being. Part of feeling heard and understood is internal, but some of it manifests in the real world. Make the spoken word real and you will gain your partner’s awesome respect.
Finally, remember that the words “I know what you mean” don’t necessarily imply “I agree with you.” But they go the distance when you’re trying to stay connected to the one you love.