Do you feel misunderstood by your partner? Seem to keep getting into repetitive arguments over the same things? Have hidden resentments toward him and a mountain of unmet needs? If you're like a lot of other gay couples, chances are your listening skills might need a jump-start; and if it's not that, then fine-tuning your ability to listen can go a long way toward bridging the gap between you and your lover and bringing about more clarity and connection in your relationship.
Conflict is inevitable when you're a couple, but how you go about negotiating it can mean the difference between cuddling on the couch together or sleeping on opposite sides of the bed when you retire for the evening. Being able to productively listen and attend to your partner is key for effective communication, and listening is also a pre-requisite for conflict resolution.
As men in our society, we haven't been trained real well in matters of emotion and communication. This can create a tenuous backdrop in a relationship with two men operating from the same conditioning. Not only can it be an obstacle to achieving true intimacy, but it can also cause partners to withdraw emotionally, avoid dealing with problems, or become competitive towards one another if not careful.
Listening is a very complex communication skill that is best taught in counseling or coaching sessions and there are literally zillions of manuals and books out there on the subject. I will try to simplify this using the Stop-Look-Listen model that is typically taught to young children with impulse-control issues. And mind you, I am not comparing us gay men to children! But this is a simple framework to operate from and I encourage you to read up on this issue in the other literature out there for more depth. Listening and communication problems are the number one reasons for conflict in relationships, both straight and gay, and this model will help you learn how to be fully present with your partner.
Step 1: STOP!
You and your partner are in the midst of a disagreement; you're both upset, tempers are beginning to flare, and the verbal lashings are about to begin... STOP! Remember that nothing of any positive consequence can come from an interaction where two people are angry and defensive. You're not properly attending to the issues because you're too busy trying to convince your man that you're right! The first step to productive listening is to defuse any potential conflicts by each of you setting the tone for positive communication and approaching each other with conscious intent for trying to understand each other and define the problem. You may need to take a "Time-Out" before proceding with your talk to help calm yourself down and get centered.
Step 2: LOOK!