Every time a couple complains about their communication problems (and almost all couples in my practice do), I find that it’s not talking styles that need to change, but listening styles.
Chapter three of Harriet Lerner’s „Marriage rules“ (a book that I love and recommend to everybody!) is entitled “Overcome your L.D.D. (Listening Deficit Disorder)”.
This is what Lerner writes:
True listening requires you to quiet your mind, open your heart, and ask questions to better understand what your partner is saying. It also requires you to stop yourself from interrupting and saying things that leave your listener feeling unheard or cut short. It requires you to get past your defensiveness when your partner is saying things that challenge your favored image of yourself so that her voice and her pain can affect and influence us. And it’s important to let your partner know when you’re not in a position to listen fully – to know when to say to your partner “Not now” or “Not in this way.
Listening with an open heart is the ultimate spiritual act. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your partner, and ultimately to yourself. Intimacy with your partner rises or falls in direct proportion to your capacity to listen well.”
My experience in working with couples in crises mode is that when emotional reactivity runs high, quietly listening is the biggest challenge. Listening the way Lerner describes, means to actively pursue understanding.
- not trying to fix
- not to focus selectively on what we want to hear
- not to constantly compare with our own experience
Listening in this mode conveys a powerful message to your partern. In listening you’re saying „You are at the center of my attention and I care. I am interested in what you have to say. I want to get to know you better. I want to understand you even though I might not agree with everything you say.“