I listened closely as the couple sitting in front of me tried to communicate.

“I don’t feel like you are really listening to me,” the woman said plaintively. “You say you understand me, but you always have pushback to what I’m saying.”

“Well,” he said, “I have a reaction to what you’re saying. Do you think I have to agree with everything?”

“No, of course not,” she said. “But, I want to sense that you really care about what I’m talking about.”

“I do,” he reiterated. “I just don’t agree with you.”

“That’s the problem,” she said. “You have your own point of view and so don’t really listen to me.”

“Oh, I listen,” he said again. “I just don’t always agree with what you’re saying.”

“Folks,” I interjected. “I think you’re both right. I think you’ve both shared your thoughts, and sometimes your feelings, but then have the sense that your mate isn’t really taking the time to understand you because of your own internal reactions.”

I let my response to them settle. Both feeling unheard and alone. Both raising their voices, reloading their opinions, both becoming more argumentative in the hopes that their mate might really hear them, only to have their mate feel threatened.

And so it goes. Have you been there, done that? Have you been in a conversation with your mate where you feel unheard? It is so very common and much of the reason why couples come to The Marriage Recovery Center. They have been communicating in this combative, argumentative manner for years, feeling more and more estranged from each other.

Let’s examine more closely what is happening here and what can be done about it.

First, we all desperately want to be heard and understood. This seems to be built into us—wanting to be heard and have our perspective validated. In an effort to be heard, we often use the wrong strategies that actually build more walls rather than bridges. 

Second, seek to understand first, then to be understood. Demanding to be heard doesn’t assist in helping our mate listen to us. Making this demand usually threatens our mate, causing them to reload and become more argumentative. After feeling heard our mate is then more likely to hear us.

Third, set aside any defensive response. It is very important that we “bracket” our immediate reaction, staying tuned into our mate. While we often have a rebuttal, this reaction will hamper connection to our mate and stop us from fully attending to them.

Fourth, after fully hearing them and understanding their concern, then ask if you may offer your perspective. Even now it is critical that you do not undo any progress you’ve made. Ask permission to share your feelings, again guarding against offending your mate. Your task is to ‘listen well’ and then offer your feelings on the matter.

Finally, discover what you can agree upon. Fully hearing your mate and understanding their concern and responding to their need, you are now free to share your concerns and arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. Timing in this matter is incredibly important. Your mate must have the sense that you’ve fully grasped their concern and have responded effectively. Only then can you respond and explore solutions.

Which is better, connection or separation? The choice is easy. Do you long for caring connection? We are here to help. Please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles.  Please send responses to me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

Publication date: January 27, 2014