4 Ways to Truly Listen in Your Relationship

Listening is the foundation of all good relationship communication.

     Many couples I work with often list “communication” as one of their struggles- listening is not as easy as we may think sometimes! Poor listening can lead to partners feeling unloved or unimportant. Good listening can lead partners to feel more connected and can minimize conflict that results from poor listening.

     We all know what it feels like to be in a heated discussion and sense our partner isn’t listening. When you ask if they are listening they say, “Yes! I’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying…” Only then they quickly jump back with arguments to what you have just shared. It’s frustrating to say the least and when this frustration begins to brew so does the conflict.

listening.jpg

How is listening different from hearing?

            Listening is a choice. Hearing is not. I can hear my husband vent to me all day long but not truly listen to what he is saying or pick up on what he needs. The whole time he is venting I could easily be thinking of many ways to disprove his points. If I am hearing to disprove and win the argument I am not listening. I am focused more on my own thoughts and feelings versus his. Listening means you focus on your partner’s thoughts and feelings. You will get a chance to respond but wait until you have a good understanding of how he or she feels and why.

How does listening work in intimate relationships?

            Effective listening takes practice, and I think we sometimes have to sort of train ourselves to shift away from simply hearing to actively listening. To help you shift into becoming a better listener here are three steps to try out to make listening more effective:

1. Listen for what's being said:

     It’s often easy for people to switch into lawyer mode to try to find numerous ways to disprove what the other person is saying- to interrogate.

     It may seem more natural to do this than to focus on just hearing and taking in what the other person is actually saying. Think of how your listening may change if you took more of an interviewing approach versus an interrogative one. Switch your mindset from the lawyer mentality to the curious listener. It will help put potential defensiveness and interruptions aside.

     Your curiosity will keep the focus on your partner and how he or she is feeling and why. You can ask yourself why is he/she upset? What specifically happened to cause him/her to begin to share what is on his/her mind with you? What is it that he or she needs from me? While these may be questions you're internally working to find the answers to, it also doesn’t hurt to ask these same questions if you feel your partner isn’t clear. It's important to uncover all of these answers before trying to jump to solving whatever problem at hand- you may be solving for the wrong problem if you jump too soon.

2. Listen for what's not being said:

     Sometimes it takes more energy to clearly communicate your needs to your partner versus just venting and exploding with emotion. It's likely there are times when the affected person shares just the surface level frustrations but may leave the depth of their concerns out.

     Be curious about what they may be trying to say but unable. Body language will be helpful here. Is she crying? What do the tears mean?)Is he looking away? Does she feel safe? Does he feel ashamed? Is she fidgety? What may be causing him to feel nervous or anxious? Asking questions about what is not being said can help the other person sense your concern and attention on getting to the depth of the emotion she is experiencing. Notice again that all of your attention is on your partner.

3. Listen to what the other person is feeling.

     Sometimes, your partner will tell you specifically how they're feeling, and other times they may not. When I work with couples, there are often challenges with people being able to focus inward and to express “I am feeling (insert emotion here).”

     Intense emotions can cause people to be flooded with emotion, which may lead to pointing fingers and defensiveness. Notice that the pointing fingers and defensiveness may mean your partner needs more validation. Although it's still up to them to tell you what they need, you can help them by actively listening well.

     When people make it a point to bring something up for discussion they're doing so with the need for some type of validation. Listening for what he is feeling will help you be able to validate his emotional experience. Someone once told me “validation is not agreeing” and this is huge when it comes to listening. If my partner is angry with me for being irritable and I say, “you’re mad because you feel like I’ve been irritable all day” this does not mean I agree that I was irritable. It means I am validating that he is mad and that I have heard and validated his concern. Once those concerns are validated, the emotional flooding can subside and make room for problem solving together.

4. Multi-task

     Here's the hardest part. When we listen, part of what we have to do is manage how we feel so we can put our agendas aside. It may sound weird, but we often forget that we feel upset by what our partners say to us. The key to listening well is to be aware of how you feel, even if those feelings are negative. Then, hold off speaking up about those emotions and keep listening like a curious witness to your partner. Do two things at once: listen and self-regulate.

    Listening isn't always as easy as we would like it to be and that’s because emotion is involved. It clouds our headspace. Recognizing this cloudiness in your own mind during conflict can help you focus back on your partner and what’s being said, what isn’t, and his or her emotions in need of caring for. Listening more can open up more room for connection and less room for conflict.

The Five Love Languages: Receiving Gifts

            Love languages continue to be a hot topic in sessions with my couples and today’s blog is about the third love language which is gift giving (Chapman, 2010). After reading the other blogs over words of affirmation and quality time you may already feel like you have found your primary love language, but maybe gift giving is something important to you- or your partner. In some cultures and families gift giving is how people show love and appreciation. However, this is not the case for all because gift giving may not mean the same to everyone. You and your partner may have had different upbringing as it relates to the meaning behind gift giving/receiving and it is helpful to have a conversation about what gifts mean to you as there can be perceptions tied to gifts, both positive and negative.

            Conflict and resentment can build when one only shows love through his or her primary love language.

Conflict has erupted in session before when one partner felt as if his partner was trying to “buy her forgiveness.” The husband shared “I was just trying to show her how much I cared about her by giving her a gift after our argument.” With this couple, this partner who gave the partner who gave the gift’s primary love language was receiving gifts, whereas his wife’s love language was physical touch. Quickly a seemingly nice gesture on one end can be met with great resistance and negative emotion. It can also be taken personally when one partner wants thoughtful gifts but giving gifts is nowhere on his or her partner’s radar. Your primary love languages may be different and that is OK!

            You may also be thinking, “yeah, I would love to give or get gifts but we aren’t made of money!” Naturally there can be concerns with gift giving when it comes to restrictions with budget, so let’s consider some ideas about how you can give gifts to your partner whose love language is receiving gifts in a practical way.

If you know your partner’s love language is receiving gifts, here are some ideas:

-       When at the grocery store (or out and about) stop and pick up his or her favorite beverage, treat, or snack. These little gifts are unlikely to cost much, and it is something you can do daily and/or weekly to demonstrate you were thinking about your partner.

-       If your partner mentions anything he or she wants or is thinking of buying, keep a running list on your phone/computer/tablet to have as a gift idea bank to pull from when you see the opportunity to give a gift.

-       Consider making a handmade gift of sorts- this can be a good way to save money, but also give them something that shows you took extra time to make with him or her in mind.

-       Look up tickets in advance for concerts, sports games, or any sort of event before your partner uncovers the event even exists. Surprise them with the ticket!

-       Buy or even pick a bouquet of flowers for your partner just because

-       When traveling for work, a small souvenir or momentum can go a long way to show your partner he or she was on your mind and you made the effort to pick them up a little something while gone

            If gift giving is your primary love language these are tips you can share with your partner. While getting diamonds might be nice every once in a while, small mementos can go a long way! If you notice your partner tends to buy gifts for you it could mean that receiving gifts is his or her love language. If he or she never shows interest in buying or receiving gifts, it is likely that receiving gifts is not on his or her radar with love languages. What if you or your partner is stressing about gifts in the relationship when maybe one or both of you do not feel more connected with them? Maybe there needs to be a shift in focus on to your partner’s primary love language and away from an assumption of what he or she needs.

 

 

Chapman, G. (2010) The five love languages. The secret to love that lasts.

The Five Love Languages: Quality Time

            The Five Love Languages Blog Series continues! The last post was all about words of affirmation and how to emotionally connect through verbal validation. This post goes into detail with the second of the five love languages, quality time, offering ideas on how to create quality time for connection in your relationship. So what is exactly is quality time? It seems pretty self-explanatory but quality time can be defined differently from one person to the next. I think it is helpful for you and your partner to describe exactly what quality time means to each of you. Quality time just happens to be my primary love language and it is not my husband’s primary love language. If I were to define quality time in our relationship I would describe it as being when my husband and I have dedicated time for just the two of us (more of a date like moment) whereas he would describe quality time as us just physically being in the same space together (maybe even watching a baseball game)-very different. Having the conversation from the beginning to differentiate what quality time looks like to each partner can be very helpful in keeping realistic expectations when needing connection in your relationship.

Photo by Marija Milenkovic Flickr

Photo by Marija Milenkovic Flickr

            Chapman (2010) offers further describes quality time in the book The Five Love Languages. First he says for someone whose love language is quality time thrives in the relationship off of moments where his or her partner gives him or her undivided attention. Chapman also says quality time can be when there are moments of quality conversation and quality activities. If quality time is your primary love language or your partner’s it is good to think about the activities you are choosing for quality time and if it will allow space for focused attention and quality conversation. Conflict and disconnection can easily arise if one partner is in need of quality time but then the scheduled time for the relationship is too distracted by other people/things. Sometimes you might even need to get creative to work in quality versus mundane time into your relationship.

Here are some other ideas for quality time:

-       Favorite Dates: Ask your partner his or her favorite dates/moments from when you first started dating. Schedule quality time activities by mirroring these moments or dates when possible.

-       Date Days: Schedule a date day for your partner who thrives off of quality time- this day can be a day filled with an activity/activities picked specifically for your partner to enjoy.

-       Conversation Time: Find opportunities to sit and simply talk- maybe over dinner, maybe under the stars, maybe with some music, etc. My favorite moments are at the end of the day when our day is winding down, our baby is asleep and we cook dinner while listening to music and catching up on our days.

-       Evening Huddles: At the end of each day before going to bed, make it a point to be with each other (undistracted) and get caught up about how each of you are doing overall. I like to think of these as evening huddles. They may only be 10-15 minutes of a conversation, but will help add to the needed quality time of the partner in need.

Photo by suburbanpenpal on Flickr

Photo by suburbanpenpal on Flickr

-       Envelope Dates: One of my favorite ideas is to create a go-to date envelope that has 12 other smaller envelopes inside. Label each smaller envelope for every month of the year and then to put a date idea in the month’s envelope. Pick 12 activities (with appropriate budget in mind) you know both you and your partner will enjoy. At the beginning of each month you will open up the month’s envelope and plan when your date will be for that month. And, there you have it- quality time planned out with a quality activity. It may take you an hour or two to come up with 12 ideas, but then you have 12 dates to look forward to! And, you will probably forget some of the dates so the surprise is fun, too!

            While these are just a few tips to consider for quality time, it is important to ask your partner if quality time is considered to be one of his or her primary love languages. If so, you can work together to come up with ideas of how to have quality time as a constant in your relationship. Life can get busy and it is A-OK to sit and plan out when your quality time will take place- with or without kids. Accepting that spontaneous dates are not always the easiest or the most practical in a long-term relationship is part of this being successful. The goal is to continue to focus on your partner’s love language to keep investing in the connection of your relationship.

Chapman, G. (2010) The five love languages. The secret to love that lasts.

The Five Love Languages: Words of Affirmation

            Have you ever heard anyone say “my husband’s or wife’s love language is quality time so we schedule a night in for just the two of us [or] my love language is physical touch so I love when my husband gives me spontaneous hugs”? If the terms “quality time” and “physical touch” seem familiar to you it’s probably because these people have been influenced by the concepts from the book, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman (2010). The five love languages help partners identify, connect, and communicate to each other the ways they feel most connected and loved- through their predominant love language.

The five love languages are:

Therapy in South Austin

1) Words of affirmation

2) Quality time

3) Receiving gifts

4) Acts of service

5) Physical touch.

            Are these five love languages new to you? That’s ok! Over the next few months I will be doing a blog series where each post will highlight one of the five love languages with tips on how to apply to your relationship. Stay tuned for bi-weekly updates!

            Let us start the first blog post of the series by highlighting our first love language: words of affirmation. Words of affirmation are words of encouragement, support and validation given to your partner- essentially affirming who he or she is as a person and/or who he or she is to you. You or your partner may crave hearing or reading words of validation to feel loved and connected. Maybe you feel most loved by your partner when you get a text saying, “Hi honey, just thinking about you and how grateful I am for you.” And, the lack of messages like this may lead to disconnection. It is not uncommon for one partner to need words of affirmation when the other partner does not need them at all. This is where working to understand each other’s love language is important. Chapman (2010) shares some awesome tips for how use words of affirmation with your partner who thrives off of them.

Words of Affirmation Tips:

-       Set a goal to compliment your partner each day

Try doing this for a few weeks to make it part of how you naturally communicate. You may compliment your partner on physical appearance, on little parts of his or her personality you like, or for anything you appreciate.

-       Find creative and fun ways to write out words of affirmation.

One idea is to send text messages or emails throughout the day to say “I love you,” “You looked nice this morning,” “ I had a nice evening last night with you,” and etc… Another idea is to leave little love notes for your partner around different parts of the house where you know he or she will eventually find them (cosmetic bag while traveling, in dresser, in gym bag…)

-       Find opportunities to verbally express to your partner how they make you feel, things you love about them, and his or her strengths in front of friends and family- or between just the two of you.

If you are thinking it, say it. If you realize have not validated your partner in a while, look for something you love about him or her, and then share it. These moments of affirmation in front of or away from family and friends can go a long way for connectedness if his or her primary love language is words of affirmation.

-       If you have children, look for ways to build up your partner as a parent in front of your children.

You can do this while your partner is there but also when he or she is away. This is a great way to help create a strong parenting team as well.

            You might have been reading this and thinking, “Hey! That is what I want more of!” If so take note, as words of affirmation may be one of your primary love languages and a need to communicate to your partner. It is also good to consider if you think your partner would appreciate and need these gestures- or these words of affirmation. For some hearing words of affirmation may be a nice but it may not be the main ingredient for connection. Words of affirmation can certainly take some practice if it is not a part of the way you naturally communicate with your partner. The more you look to affirm your partner, the better. If this is your partner’s love language you may even notice him or her leaning in more to you after you continue to build your partner up through words of affirmation. He or she may begin to feel more connected to you and more likely to try to look to fulfill your needs. As the Five Love Languages Blog Series continues I hope these tips will help you find more of what each of you needs to feel connected and loved. And, I’m always here to help navigate you through this process.

 

Chapman, G. (2010) The five love languages. The secret to love that lasts.

“Adios 2016, Bonjour 2017!”

Three things to consider in moving into the New Year

     As 2016 is ending and 2017 is quickly approaching I can’t help but notice the impact the end of the year is having not only on myself but also my friends, family, and clients. Ending this year and moving into the new year ahead is an opportunity to take some time for reflection. To help you reflect and prepare for the New Year here are three things to consider:

1.     What was good about last year and what made it good?

            I think it can be easy to think back over the last year and find some stuff that happened during the year that you are happy about- and maybe some of these moments were bigger than others. Taking a moment to focus on what you are grateful for can be centering in itself, but I believe it is also helpful to consider how the good things came to be good.

Ask yourself:

§  What did you do to contribute to it being good? It may come natural for you to overlook your own influence with the successes in your life. 

 Take time to give yourself a pat on the back.

§  What did others do to make a positive impact on your life? Look around you. Who is your support group? Who is a part of your village that helps you keep your head above water?

Take time to recognize your village and offer your thanks.

§  What external influences helped bring about the good? This may be a spiritual or opportunity based part for you. What resources did you seek out and lean on when needed?

Take time to make a mental note of the resources that served you. You may use them again.

2. What was bad about this year but then how did you persevere?

     2016 was a challenging year for many and many people I have talked to in the last few weeks are beyond ready for 2017. The new year signifies a fresh start- a clean slate. If you look back on 2016 and are overwhelmed with all of the bad become curious about how you survived those experiences.

Ask yourself:

§  What kept you striving forward to where you are today? It may be tough to look inward to determine this right now but try.

You survived. Take a deep breath and acknowledge your resilience.

§  What innate survival skills kicked in just when you needed them? You may have felt weak in many moments but you pushed through.

You are strong. Take a moment to notice how strong you were when you felt weak.

3. How can you use this year's experiences to move into next year?

     Looking back on this year’s experiences- good or bad- can help you determine what you want to keep doing and maybe what you want to change. I think it is also helpful to look at your current priorities to see if they are as balanced as you need and want them to be. The end of an old year and the beginning of a new year is an ideal time to reassess priorities and re-center.

Ask yourself:

§  How balanced are your priorities in life? To name a few: how balanced do you feel with your physical health, emotional health, professionally, socially, and in your spiritual life?

Take time to determine your priorities you want to focus on in 2017. Believe in yourself.

 §  What needs shifting to get your priorities realigned? This may be the challenging part. And this is probably where those New Year’s resolutions come into play. Create a game plan and pace out the changes you want to make.

Be compassionate towards yourself and the new year ahead.

Whether 2016 was good or bad for you- you did it. And you will do it again in 2017. You got this.