It’s so painful [frustrating, annoying, maddening, etc.] when your partner talks over you, rolls their eyes, leaves the room, dismisses you, or just plain shuts you out. ALL YOU WANT IS TO BE HEARD!
Let’s take a look at what’s happening and what you can do to up your chances of getting your needs met.
Why You Aren’t Being Heard, Part 1: Things You Can’t Control
If you read last week’s blog, you’ll see that there’s one reason in this category: The other person simply has no capacity (energy and/or skill) to listen.
Think about your own experience: When your energy (head & heart) is tied up with the stresses of your day, you’re less likely to be available to others. That may be true of your partner. We have no idea what happened for them during the day, how they responded mentally and emotionally, and what their attention is doing in the moment. We don’t know if they’re caught up in a fear cycle or if they’re daydreaming about a new car. Whatever the case, they simply are not available to us in that moment.
The other part of this lack of capacity has to do with skill. Many of us listen to respond, not to actually hear and understand what the other person is saying. You cannot control another person’s ability to listen, period. So don’t try. If you notice that your partner consistently doesn’t listen well, consider contacting a counselor or coach to up-skill your listening abilities. It’ll pay dividends both at home and at work. OH, and if you’re the one who struggles to listen (which your partner will tell you is the case), please consider getting some support for your own skills.
How do you work with all of this?
The Fix: Ask your partner when they will be available to listen. “I don’t know” is an acceptable response, so be ready to hear that. Schedule a time together for the future, and get to work on the things you can control (below).
Tip: My husband and I schedule “listening night” at the same time each week to ensure that there’s time and space for us to talk. We know it’s coming, so we can plan for it. And either of us may reschedule if we know we can’t listen well.
P.S. If your partner consistently struggles to listen, and you’re consistently hurt, that lays groundwork for a tear in the fabric of your relationship, if it’s not there already. PLEASE consider getting professional support so that you can process your own “stuff” and learn how to work through this situation in a way that helps you.
Why You Aren’t Being Heard, Part 2: Things You Can Control
One of my teachers told me: True communication is the response you get. You may be getting one of three responses below…
Number ONE! They don’t seem to care about what you’re saying. OUCH! Nothing is more painful than a partner who refuses to look at you when you’re talking or who changes the subject when you’re in the middle of a sentence. GAAAAHHH! So let’s take a step back here and figure out how to invite their attention to you.
This is going to seem really difficult, but it’s as simple as this: Put your agenda aside and focus solely on connecting with your partner. There’s a reason you two are together. I’m going with the fact that you love each other. Now, there are two ways to get attention: Harshly and Gently. I assure you that the gentle method works wonders, and that you don’t have to yell to be heard, so let’s focus on the gentle ways.
Remember who this person is in front of you. They have fears and concerns. They have stresses and worries. They’re as human as you are. So take an interest in their experience. Ask to be let into their world. The words you use will be overshadowed by your intention. Is your intention on connection and collaboration, or are you just trying to control a situation so that you don’t have to feel your feelings? That’s a tough question, but when it’s about you and they seem like they don’t care, chances are good that your partner can feel your intention.
The Fix: Put down your agenda and focus on connecting with your partner. Communication from the heart is what we’re all looking for.
Number TWO! Your words don’t make sense to them. You’re asking for “space” or “understanding” and to your partner . . . well, they’re hearing yogurt and popcorn. It’s helpful to describe nebulous terms with concrete behaviors. When you say to your partner, “I feel alone when you are watching TV all the time,” that just sounds like nagging. People WANT to help each other feel better, but in the face of a comment like that they don’t know what to do. So they do nothing, which we know infuriates you all the more.
Try this: “I’ve been missing a connection with you. Let’s go for a walk tonight. I just love it when we explore together.” This is more focused around a solution than the problem. It also lets your partner know exactly what they can do to help. It’s action-oriented, which means you’re asking for the behavior you desire rather than talking about things you don’t want. And because the words are so concrete, they’re easy for your partner to understand.
“I need an hour to take a bath and read, then I’d like to go out for dinner with you” is a lot easier for your partner to understand than, “I need space and understanding.” It’s also less threatening. (When a person feels threatened in conversation, revert back to part 1.)
The Fix: Be specific about what you want and offer solutions.
Number THREE! You aren’t clear about your message. This probably should have been number one, honestly. Why? A confused mind always says no. What is it that you want to share? Are you framing it in a loving way?
There are multiple ways to get the same message across. Let’s say you’d like your partner’s help with the dishes.
You can yell: You never help with the dishes. This criticism is an unfulfilled wish, and it’s not going to get a favorable response. It’s going to be met with defense every time because almost everyone is going to perceive this as an attack. So this is a good one NOT to do.
You can softly say: I’m always doing the dishes. It’s really frustrating, and I’m sick of it. Again, this message isn’t going to come across as “I would love your help, please.” It’s going to come across to 99% of people as complaining…and it’s likely to be met with an argument. You know it’s true.
You can calmly and gently ask for what you want: Babe, it feels really good when you help me. Would you help with the dishes tonight? Now, I’m not going to guarantee that this one will get a desired result (because that depends on the willingness of the other person) but I can say it’ll go over better with the other person. Why? It sounds like an invitation. It’s not demanding. And it lets the other person know that they’re having a positive impact when they choose to participate.
The third message is clear: You’re asking directly for what you want - help with the dishes - and you’re letting the other person know their value when they say yes.
The fix: Be direct and kindly ask for what you want.
The short version: You’re not being heard because you’ve prioritized your agenda over the relationship. To be heard in your relationships, focus on restoring and growing connection you have; offer solutions and concrete behaviors; and be direct and kind.
What other communication challenges do you have?