“He never listens to me!”
“She only hears what she wants to hear!”
“It feels like I'm talking to myself all of the time!”
Does it seem like your spouse tunes you out when you're talking to him or her? As clear and straightforward as you think you were with your request, your partner claims to have heard something else from you..or maybe even argues that you didn't say it at all.
Communication is essential to a healthy and happy marriage or love relationship. If you consistently feel like your partner is either blatantly ignoring you or is too distracted to hear what you're saying, this can cause serious trouble.
Irritation and resentment can build as a result.
You might get the impression that your partner doesn't care what you think or what you want. Your spouse may seem to be withdrawing from you more and more. And, the number of misunderstandings, mistaken assumptions, arguments and hostility can grow.
Yes, the communication problems in your relationship may largely be due to your partner's habits. The internet, home and child care responsibilities, the sports game on tv, financial or career worries, texts from friends or countless other things can distract your mate and make it difficult for him or her to really listen to you.
There are certainly improvements in listening that your partner could and hopefully will make.
There are also some changes you can make. The way you make a request and the way that you communicate in general has a big effect on whether or not your partner will listen or will close down to you.
The next time you want to truly be heard, remember this...
#1: Truly make a request-- don't issue a demand.
There can be a fine line between a request and a demand. If there is an element of threat or manipulation, it's a demand. If you find yourself saying “Either you _____ or I will/won't ____” you're making a demand in the form of an ultimatum.
Issuing ultimatums or making demands tend to put your partner on the defensive. There are a few occasions in which you might deliberately choose to make a demand, but this should not be a frequent occurrence if healthy communication is what you want.
Instead, make sure you phrase your request as a question and mean it as a question too.
“Are you willing to____?”
“Will you _____?”
“It's important to me for you to_____. Will you agree to do that?”
If your partner seems busy or distracted, before you make your request you might say something like this: “Will you take a break from that for 5 minutes so that I can ask you a question?” or “Can we set aside some time in an hour to talk about ____?”
#2: Be time and action specific.
Don't be vague or wishy washy with your request. Be as specific as you can be. This takes the guesswork out of it for your partner and makes it more likely that you'll be satisfied with the results.
For instance, instead of asking your mate to “help out more around the house,” ask him or her to be responsible for specific household chores (e.g. dishes, laundry or sweeping) and, if applicable, how often you'd like that to happen.
This means that you need to be very clear about what it is you want BEFORE you come to the conversation. If you only know that you feel as if you're doing it all or you're not being supported, that's going to leave you both confused. Take the time to know exactly what you want.
This one request might not address every single need you have regarding this issue. But, it can be a positive start if you communicate it clearly, confidently and in a way your partner can easily hear and understand.
#3: Really listen to your partner's response.
After you've made your request, now it's time for you to be an engaged listener. It could be that you also have a habit of tuning out your partner's words or assuming that you already know what he or she has to say. If this is a tendency for you, notice it and stop yourself.
Really listen to the literal words your partner is saying to you in response. If you feel like he or she is misunderstanding you, be patient and offer to re-state your request.
If your partner is not willing to do what you've asked, this doesn't have to mean an argument or a communication breakdown. Instead, it is an opportunity for both of you to connect, even though it's difficult.
You might say something like this... “I hear that you're not willing to____. Can you help me understand why?” or “Is there another way you might help me with ____.”
It is important that you both feel like you are being heard. It is also important that this not turn into a “you win-I lose” or “I win-you lose” struggle. One way to avoid this kind of struggle is to watch your approach.
Keep returning to the question... “How can we both get our needs met?”
#4: Confirm and make sure you're agreeing to the same thing.
Even if you think that you and your partner have agreed to a plan regarding your request, confirm it to one another. This might feel repetitive or silly, but it can be very effective.
A simple re-statement of your agreement might sound like this: “So, this is what we agreed to, right?: You're going to drive Jane to soccer practice on Thursdays and I am going to drive John to violin on Fridays. If something comes up for you at work, you're going to call me as soon as you know so that I can change my schedule around.”
The clearer you can be and the more you two can be on the same “side” working together to meet needs, the more time you will have as a couple for fun, love and passion.
Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect and create the relationship they desire. Click here to receive their free mini-course: "10 Communication Secrets for Creating a Lifetime of Love."