Many people find themselves in couples therapy asking how they can fix their communication problems. They mention they feel unheard and unloved during heated arguments. As a therapist, I can witness what the power of listening and attending to someone can do. Although most partners and spouses want to attend to their partners during heated conversations, they are unsure of how.
During arguments or moments of disagreements it is hard to feel present. Often, we feel defensive and can sense how fast our minds are thinking and our mouths are moving. In these moments it is important to relax and bring ourselves back to the present moment. It is helpful to focus all your mental energy on listening and not spend time thinking of your rebuttal or next statements. One way to be sure you are communicating clearly and getting your point across is to practice active listening.
Here are some helpful tools to implement when listening:
- When listening be sure to spend time visualizing every word you hear.
- Once your partner shares with you, repeat back what you heard.
- Repeating what you heard lets your partner know they have been understood clearly.
- When repeating what you heard make sure you are only reflecting back statements heard and not adding any of your own feelings and thoughts.
- Once your partner has shared their thoughts create space for allowing them to explore what they are feeling.
- Opening the dialogue about emotion gives a chance to explore both the logic and emotion found in the argument.
- Remember to use “I statements” throughout the conversation, only reflecting on your thoughts, feelings, and interpretations. This helps create a safe space and avoids the possibility of blaming or shaming one another.
Keeping these steps in mind will help the conversation remain open and honest. In this way, both partners will feel they are able to show vulnerability and genuineness in the safe space that has been created. In this way you will begin to strengthen and deepen your connection and relationship.
Reference: Taggart, Laura. Making Love Last: Divorce-Proofing Your Young Marriage. Baker Publishing Group, 2017
Natasha Griffin is a marriage and family therapist trainee. She is supervised by Christopher Coble, LMFT #48859.