Monday, March 25, 2013

The World's Most Important Relationship Tip

Excellent Article by Dr. Stephanie Buehler, Director, The Buehler Institute:

It isn't remembering your partner's birthday.  It isn't learning how to rub his or her neck just right.  It isn't remembering their favorite dish to order from the local Chinese place, either.

No, the world's most important relationship tip is as old as old can be:


However, it's not that simple.  You have to listen on many different levels, all at once.  You have to listen in such a way that your partner feels heard.  You have to open your "third ear" and listen with passion, love, and wisdom.  You need to place all your attention on your partner's words and listen, not just to the literal meaning, but to all the shades of meaning underneath.

Have you ever had this dialogue:

Partner:  You're not listening to me.

You:  Yes, I am.

Partner:  No, you're not.

You:  Yes, I am.  (Repeat what partner says verbatim.)

Partner:  That's what I said, but it's not what I mean.  You don't get me at all!

You: (Scratching your head.)  Whatever!

In this exchange, the listening partner thinks they're all over it because they heard the words.  But they obviously missed a lot of information.  They missed their partner's tone of voice, their body language, and the feelings behind the words.

Your partner isn't simply a word-producing device, with sounds coming out of their throat and mouth that come from nowhere.  Your partner is a thinking, feeling human being.  When they need you to listen, really listen, they are speaking with the hope that they will be understood without having to spell out every single little detail.  If you are intimate partners, it is expected, at least to some extent, that you know your partner well enough that you understand the significance of what they are saying.

This type of exchange often happens when the listener is concrete.  That means they are very literal and focused on what is happening on the immediate present.  When someone is concrete, it means that they lack flexibility to understand that there is so much more going on.  It is like being tuned into one channel and not realizing that others exist.

Can you develop better skill as a listener?  As a matter of fact, yes!  Here are more tips to make the original tip even better.  For example, don't anticipate what your partner is going to say, and don't start creating a response until your partner has finished speaking.

While your partner is speaking, check in with yourself.  What emotional response do you get from their words?  Do you feel sad, upset, angry, amused, or confused?  Can you sense any tightness or other signal in your body, such as in your stomach?  And, what do you notice about your partner's face and body?  Are they tense?  Are their eyes wide open?  Or are they downcast?  What does this body language tell you about the importance of what they are saying?

Once your partner has spoken, check in.  Make sure you heard what they said.  Ask.  Then reflect.  How do you want to respond?

Try letting your partner know that you understand from their words that they might be feeling angry or distressed or whatever.  If you don't get the feeling behind their words just right, ask them to describe it to you.

Respond to the feeling first--very important!  That is what makes your partner feel heard.  Give your partner sympathy or whatever is required.  Even if you don't share their point of view, be patient.  Let your partner know they are as important to you as you are to yourself.

Only then can you begin to offer advice or to brainstorm, not before.

I think you will be amazed with the result.  You and your partner will feel more intimate.  You will fight less.  Your partner will feel more understanding toward you, as well.

Yes, the most important relationship skill is to listen.  The second most important relationship skill is how you speak to your partner--but that's for next month, stay tuned!