Published by John Aiken: It’s one of the most common complaints I hear from couples as they walk through my office door, ‘John, the reason why we’re here today is because he/she won’t listen!’. Often you’ll find that this toxic communication cycle will be characterized by four main symptoms (Dr John Gottman):
- Criticism – personal attack with a harsh tone
- Defensiveness – excuses and playing the victim role
- Contempt – put downs, eye-rolling, belittling, sarcasm and disrespect
- Stonewalling – shut down, cold shoulder
Now if you’re caught in this type of gridlock and you can’t seem to find a way out, then you need to remember the Golden Rule:
“Good listening comes from good speaking.”
Put simply, if you want your partner to listen more then you have to improve the way you talk. Here are 5 practical tips to get you on your way:
1. Bring up issues softly
Research has found that the way you start a conversation will determine how it goes 96% of the time. So if you start harshly with an aggressive or disrespectful tone it’s going to go badly. Instead, gently bring up issues with “I feel” statements and put forward what you want in a positive way (e.g. ‘…darling I feel ignored when you look at your phone when I’m talking to you. I would love it if you could put the phone down and look me in the eyes’.)
2. Ask don’t order
After being together for a while, you’ll often become more direct with your communication style. Particularly if you have kids and directives become common place. If you really want your partner to listen more, then ask them rather than ordering them to do something (e.g. ‘Darling how would you feel about doing…?’,’Honey, how are you placed with helping to…’)
3. Let them finish talking
Whether you’re trying to get your point across or you feel compelled to correct your partner, the end result will often see you talking over the top of them. Rather than getting into point scoring, let each other finish talking, and look to gain an understanding of each point of view.
4. Stop trying to fix
It might seem like a great idea to fix your partner’s problems and worries so that they’ll feel better, but ultimately this will make them feel dismissed. When your partner is under stress they need you to do three things – empathise, side with them, and never ever fix. Sit with their feelings, give them a sense that you’ve got their back and don’t offer solutions.
5. Reign in technology
We can all be guilty of spending too much time wrapped up in technology (e.g. iPhones, iPads, Laptops, Television). The problem with this is that it gets in the way of connecting with your partner. In fact, if your partner is speaking to you and you’re head down in Facebook or Instagram then sparks are going to fly. Instead, come to an agreement and put boundaries around technology, so that if either of you is speaking, you must give each other your full attention.
John Aiken, Findsomeone’s dating and relationship expert, as seen on the hit TV 3 show Married At First Sight. He is a best selling author, appears regularly on TV, radio and in magazines, is a clinical psychologist and runs a private practice in Sydney, is a sought after speaker, and offers intensive couples retreats. (www.johnaiken.com.au)