Have you ever experienced a surge of emotion when your partner tells you that he or she is irritated about something you’ve done? Most of us have experienced those pesky feelings of tension that signal us to stop listening, raise the defenses, and react.
The problem with this behavior is that it’s nearly impossible to build bridges when you’re too busy building walls. Below are some steps to help you listen long enough to understand:
1) Keep yourself in check: When your partner is sharing something that is difficult for you to hear take a couple slow, deep breaths from your stomach.
2) Resist the temptation to defend yourself: Generally, your partner is not setting out to hurt you. Sometimes saying that you feel defensive can take its power away. To yourself or your partner say, “This is difficult for me to hear right now, but I’m keeping myself in check so that I can hear your perspective.”
3) Clarify what you’ve just heard: After you’ve heard the message, be descriptive about what you heard, such as, “If I heard you right you said that you feel irritated because…”
4) Ask questions: The point is to understand. Avoid questions that have to do with your own defensive agenda, such as nearly all ‘why’ questions. Instead, focus on ‘what’ and ‘how’ such as, “What specifically did I do or say that irritated you?”
5) Examine ways to change: If your partner doesn’t tell you what they would prefer you to do or say instead, then gently ask what he or she would prefer. You won’t know how to make it better unless you know what to do!
Listening is an extremely important and underused skill in many relationships. When you make the choice to remain calm, and to listen to your partner instead of your own thoughts about how you’re right and they’re wrong, you can actually grow closer. Even if it feels tense, this is an act of intimacy!
Bryan Norman, 2011