Editor's Note: Dr. David Hawkins, best-selling author of When Pleasing Others is Hurting You and Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life, is pleased to announce that his column will be changing its format in upcoming weeks. Beginning immediately, readers are welcome to send him their relationship questions at email@example.com to be answered in his new advice column.
“I can’t make him listen to me,” a woman said to me recently.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, no matter how I say something,” she continued, “he doesn’t really hear me.”
“Tell me some more how you talk to him,” I said.
“Well, I tell him how disappointed I am with how distant he is, and he doesn’t respond well to that,” she said. “I must admit that I’ve gotten so frustrated I’ve spoken harshly to him and know he doesn’t respond to that. I can’t seem to make him listen to me.”
“You know that is true, don’t you?” I said. “You really can’t make him listen to you.”
“What do you mean?” she asked incredulously.
“Well,” I said slowly. “You can’t make him listen to you. He can’t make you listen to him. We can only put ourselves in an emotional and spiritual space where someone might want to listen to us and connect to us.”
I waited for a moment to let my words sink in.
“Furthermore,” I said, “they have to be in an emotional and spiritual place where they want to listen. We can influence that but can’t control it. If we are very self-aware, and gentle with our words, our mate is more likely to want to connect with us.”
“That all makes sense,” she said. “I think I’ve been harsher than I realize and that can’t be helping the situation.”
“Most people are harsher than they realize,” I said. “We think of ourselves one way, usually in the best light, when really we are harsher, more critical, even accusatory, without realizing it.”
“I think that is true for me,” she said.
We continued to talk about other strategies for being heard and connecting to our mate. Here are some additional tools for you to consider if this is a struggle in your marriage:
First, cultivate self-awareness. Most of us are very unaware of how we interact with others, especially our mate. We are often far more critical than we realize, creating a very negative dynamic. We want connection but often act in ways that creates disconnection. We want to be heard but speak in ways that cause others to shrink back in self-protection.
Second, ask for feedback. We all need feedback in order to grow. In business they use a 360 degree feedback loop so that they receive feedback from superiors and those that report to them. We need feedback from our mate, our children and even close friends who know us and are willing to speak critically into our lives.
Third, speak to connect, not to correct. Listen to how you talk to your mate. Notice their reaction to what you say. Do they draw closer to you or pull away? Do they ask for more communication and connection to you or do they defend themselves in response to feeling attacked? Listen to your words to ensure they are connecting words, not attempts to change them.
Fourth, speak from your most vulnerable self. Speak from your feelings, being centered and sure of yourself. Make no attempts to change the other person, but only inform them of what is happening within you from a very vulnerable and soft place.
Finally, notice the results and make adjustments. Watch closely for the results. Notice the impact of your words and consider whether you are acting and being the person you know God wants you to be. If not, get professional help and become that person, regardless of what is happening with your mate. In time, your mate is very likely to respond favorably.
Practice living by the Apostle Paul’s words: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4: 29)
Listening and speaking in this way are not always easy. We at The Marriage Recovery Center are prepared to walk with you through this change process. Please feel free to contact me at MarriageRecoveryCenter.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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