We’ve all been there. Twenty minutes of bickering and things have only gotten more intense. Voice volume has increased but understanding has decreased. You don’t feel heard and are way past the point of listening. Definitely no constructive communication happening at this point.
So what can you do differently? Maybe you’ve both agreed to make changes in the past but how? When emotions take over, old patterns are hard to break. There are things that you can do during the argument that may help the conversation to be more productive and it starts with listening.
1. Take a break
To truly listen, you may need to calm down first. If things are heated, consider taking a break before discussing it further. Even taking 2 minutes to breathe and gather your thoughts can make the conversation more focused when you return to it. Make sure you agree to take a break though. You are not likely to calm down if your partner is walking behind you seeking your attention.
2. Listen closely
One mistake couples make is believing they “have listened” when in fact all they did was allow the person time to speak. You can’t listen when you are also developing a counter argument. You aren’t listening if you feel like you have “heard it all before.” To listen requires full attention to the present moment. Make eye contact. Turn off the tv. Put the phone down. For a period of time, give 100% of your attention to the person that you love.
3. Follow up
After allowing your partner to express their concerns, follow up with clarifying questions. Clarifying questions help you to really understand what was expressed and allow your partner to be more confident that you were listening. Examples include, “so what you are saying is…” or “it seems like…” Try not to assume the second part, just summarize what you heard while listening closely.
After calming down, listening closely, and clarifying what you heard only then should you respond. When responding use a softer tone than your partner used. Speak in terms of addressing the problem instead of venting multiple frustrations at one time. The goal of conflict in your relationship is to address negative feelings, not create more.
It may seem nearly impossible when tensions are high but becoming a better listener is the first step towards improving communication in your relationship.
To learn more about improving communication in your relationship, call Dr. Powers to begin Couples Therapy (850-807-9801).