“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
Often, when there are struggles in a relationship, we spend a lot of time talking about what is wrong or what we are upset about. There may be blame, criticism and judgment, which usually result in arguments, and if the negative talk continues, things may spiral out of control.
Firing criticism back and forth does no more to change things than countries bombing each other saying they are “fighting for peace.” In fact, a lot of damage is done, which may be remembered for years down the road, continuing to affect the relationship between the two participants.
It is much better for couples if they can focus on what they want to create rather than on what is wrong. Of course, they may have to refer to what is upsetting, but the focus should then quickly switch to what it is that could make things better.
When there are ongoing issues and conflict within a couple, they often stop listening to one another and no longer feel like being kind or loving. It is like when a plant is struggling to survive and then water, light and nutrition are withdrawn. It does not stand a chance.
All couples have issues at some time or another, so it is important to have some agreements about how difficulties will be discussed. A good beginning is to affirm caring for the other and positive intent in dealing with the problem.
Couples should agree to avoid blame, criticism, judgment and put-downs. It is important to try to focus on the issue at hand without bringing in too much of the past. Do not compare your partner to others. Telling her she is just like her mother levels two criticisms with one blow. Asking why he cannot be like your friend’s husband is devastating: He will always think that you are comparing him to “Mr. Perfect” and that he will never measure up.
Relationship issues can be delicate, and past hurts can get in the way of present solutions, so be careful what you say.
Deep Listening Shows You Care
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Communication is so much more than the words being said. True communication is a very complex process, and it is a wonder sometimes that we even understand one another at all.
First, let us look at the one doing the speaking. The speaker may not be saying exactly what he or she would like to say, or may not be expressing it all that well.
Then consider the listener. The listener may or may not be paying full attention to what is being said. Even if really listening, he or she may misinterpret what is actually being said. The message may be filtered through the listener’s assumptions about what is being heard.
Listening is truly an art. Caring enough to listen deeply is a gift. Often, when someone is really listening they will encourage us to say more on the topic. They will ask questions for clarification. We will feel that what we have to say is important. They will not be in a rush to change the subject.
A sensitive listener will not jump in with solutions or advice, nor will he or she take the conversational ball and run off with it. We will not feel judged or criticized for what we are feeling.
Deep listening is a very active process; it takes work and consciousness. It requires both the head and the heart. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another. It is the way we should honour someone who is trusting us enough to share an important part of themselves.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in Sherwood Park, Alberta. To read more of her articles or find information about her books, her Deep Powerful Change hypnosis CDs and her Creating Effective Relationships series, please visit www.gwen.ca or Gwen’s Facebook page.