How To Get Your Partner To Stop Zoning Out When You're Talking

couple talking

You want your partner to listen, not just hear the words.

Have you ever had the experience of sharing something important to you with your partner and feeling like you were talking to yourself? Missing a little empathy? Unfortunately, it's not an uncommon experience and couples like this could often use some relationship advice. Your partner is caught up in other things, mind in other places, and, thinking that you're going to talk about things they already know about. That's pretty much how it goes. And, over time, it can really ruin your relationship. That sounds severe, I know, but the habit of not listening to one another is disrespectful and it just wears things away as it tears things down. That's because, when it is happening, two things are missing: empathy and presence.

When you are not listening, you cannot empathize for two reasons:

  1. You don't know what your partner is specifically talking about.
  2. You may not have the willingness or skill that empathy requires.

That's why, when your partner is not listening, you don't feel heard and it’s hard to feel close. You're left with that "What am I? Chopped liver?" feeling. That is just not good, nor is it good enough to move your relationship to anything like greater emotional intimacy.

What can you do when s/he doesn’t seem to be listening? Here are three important considerations:

  1. Timing: When you have something important to say that you really need to be heard, ask your partner if this is a good time to talk. If s/he says no, then ask when would be. Just because you have a need to talk doesn't mean it's a good time for someone to listen. Maturity tells us that that is so, and it is the respectful thing to do. However, when a good time to talk has been established, you can then expect your partner's full attention.
  2. Distractions: When your partner starts out listening but is distracted or drifts away, call it. Be careful not to do it with any blame, but help your partner to understand what’s going on with you, like: "I feel that you are not listening. You may be hearing, but because I don’t have your full attention, I do not feel like you're listening. I want you to really get what I am talking about and why it is important to me — and to us." Partners often throw that off with an "Of course, I'm listening. Here, let me repeat the last two things you said." But if you don't feel that your partner is getting the importance, the emotions, or the depth of what you are saying, you will not feel heard. When they repeat what you said, they're just words unless they really understand the meaning it has for you behind those words.
  3. Willingness: When there is no response from your partner that indicates that s/he "got" your message, understand that listening takes ability and willingness. If this non-listening is a pattern in your relationship, you can bet that the willingness to know you better, to understand you on deeper levels, is not there. How you tell if your partner "got" your message is by the way they demonstrate their listening: they will ask insightful questions, lean into you, or quietly do something that shows you their response.

If your partner doesn't seem to be listening, there are likely bigger issues, and you may need some relationship help.

What's stopping them from listening? Sometimes people don't listen because they don’t want to hear a need for change on their part. Other times they don't listen because they are afraid they cannot help, and turn off so that they do not feel inadequate. Other times, they are simply not that into you. And, sometimes, your partner has really pressing issues within themselves and s/he does not have the capacity at the moment to take in more. Be compassionate and assertive.

To be great, a relationship absolutely requires empathy and presence. When those are not available, relationships decline. Take those three important things into consideration and reflect on what is really going on in your relationship. Listening and being listened to really matter!

This article was originally published at The Relationship Help Doctor. Reprinted with permission from the author.