One of the most frustrating things we encounter in relationships is feeling unheard, discounted, or like what we have to say doesn’t matter. At the very least, we would like the acknowledgement that we’ve said something. But what we really need and hope for is our partner to hear us, accept our influence, and let us know they care about us and what we have to say. So what makes feeling heard so challenging in a relationship?
Often, we go about getting our partner’s attention in all the wrong ways. Previously, in my own relationship, I would try to bulldoze my agenda because it was important to me. As you might guess bulldozing did not work. It lead to a lot of fights and frustration for both myself and my husband. I had to figure out a better way to communicate my needs because I was not going to give up on them. Below are a few strategies to help you have the best possible chance of your partner hearing you and responding in a way that lets you know they care about what you have to say. In the following paragraphs, I am going to use the example of trying to get your partner to workout with you. I hope you will find that the strategies applied to this example could be applied to almost any issue that you may have in your relationship.
Communicate the meaning.
Why is this important to you? What would it mean to you if your partner worked out with you? Are you asking your partner to workout with you to benefit your own health, spend time together, or is it because you are worried about their health?
If you are reading this and thinking about something you would like to communicate with your partner, most likely it is significantly meaningful to you. Which could also explain why it is so upsetting when you have tried discussing this topic before and felt your partner was not hearing you or worse yet did not care. You first have to know the significance of the topic to you before you can communicate it to your partner. With our example, if you are concerned about your partner’s health or you want to spend more time with your partner these are both incredibly important.
Dig a little deeper.
There may be health concerns in your families, possibly even deaths related to health problems. Perhaps you rarely spend quality time together with your busy schedules and at times you feel more like roommates than husband and wife. Being concerned for each other’s health and spending time together are both very positive desires that could be well received if presented in an equally positive way. So how can you communicate this in the most positive way possible? Start by expressing the deeper meaning and how important this is to you. “This is really important to me because I want to spend more time with you.” “Sometimes I miss you and feel too independent in our relationship.” “Remember when we used to ride our bikes together when we were dating? Wouldn’t it be fun to do that again?” These are just ideas of how to express your feelings. Notice the soft, gentle tone, which expresses how you feel instead of what you do or do not want your partner to do.
Consider your partner’s point of view.
Many of us can recite what our partner will say or respond with in a fight but somehow this does not translate into understanding their perspective. If you already have an idea of how your partner will respond consider why. Avoid judging their response and instead focus on what makes sense about how they feel. How might you feel similarly if you were in their place? Your spouse never wants to workout with you no matter what approach you have tried. What do they say when you bring it up? Are they too tired, do not have time, or would rather do something else? When you hear these initially you may just hear excuses. Most likely just as this has significant meaning for you, it may for them as well. You have a few options. You can try to bulldoze your partner into submission. You can give up and try to forget about it. Or you can try to understand where they are coming from, why they have been so resistant and what meaning this has for them.
After you have let them know the significance of working out together to you, ask them if they ever think about working out or have any interest in working out themselves. If not, inquire more. Think of yourself as a reporter inquisitively asking questions with genuine interest.
REMEMBER no judgment, no persuading, and no ulterior motive, JUST LISTEN. We seem to fear that if we are at all understanding of why someone is doing something or feels a certain way they will not change or have any reason to change. Worse yet we fear we are condoning their behavior or agreeing with it by demonstrating understanding or empathy. So we avoid being understanding or trying to hear their perspective. These fears are NOT true. People are more likely to accept our influence if we demonstrate a genuine understanding of their perspective. Listening with understanding is NOT the same as agreeing.
What doesn’t work and why.
Criticism doesn’t work. There is no faster way to get someone to stop listening then to start off by criticizing them. When we are upset or frustrated we often try to communicate through criticism. Remember my bulldozing. Usually this started off with, “Why don’t’ you…” “You never…” “You don’t care.” Logically it is easy to see why the listener would shut down if you started off a request to workout together with any of the above but emotionally when you are communicating something very important to you it is easy to let your hurt feelings run the show. The best way to avoid criticism in your communication is to focus on communicating the meaning and considering your partner’s point of view. If you find yourself criticizing your partner often go back and reread the above. Practice communicating what this means to you and how you will let your partner know their point of view is just as important as yours. Write it down. Imagine how the conversation might go without criticism but instead with support and understanding.
If you and your partner are stuck in a deep rut of frustrating attempts to communicate leaving you both feeling unheard or uncared about consider these ideas as a starting point. It takes lots of practice to apply these strategies with any level of success. It took many, many attempts of trying another approach before I eliminated my bulldozing. It took equally long for my husband to no longer expect bulldozing anytime I wanted to talk about something important. If you do not at first succeed, be patient and try again. Notice any positive changes, not matter how small, and acknowledge that as a step towards your partner hearing you.
Michelle Puster M.Ed. | Licensed Professional Counselor
Helping disconnected couples grow closer
Couples & Marriage Counseling Katy, TX