One of the biggest issues I hear couples complain about is communication. They often tell me they “just don’t know how to communicate” with each other. I hear the desperation in their voices. I know they each have been trying to get understanding from the other person for a long time and they just haven’t been successful. Usually due to exasperation the couple comes in and informs me they just can’t communicate, and they are desperate to find help.
I know that when people categorize their issues with the word “communication”, there is likely a lot more going on then just the phrasing of words. I know that what’s missing is a very vital part of communication and one of the most basic human needs; and that’s the need to be heard.
Often times when couples begin therapy they have no problem expressing their individual points of view to me. What they have a hard time doing however, is getting their partner to actually listen to what they are saying.
When two people have been trying to get understanding from each other for a period of time without success, it’s possible they might become angry or resentful trying yet again one more time to make their point. It’s usually after years of dismissing the importance of being heard that a couple might decide to try counseling as a “last ditch effort” to fix the relationship.
And that’s when I can begin to help. It starts by giving the couple awareness. No one signs up to be mean to their partner. No one starts out being indifferent, resentful or angry toward their mate. These stances come after trying over and over to get one’s point across and failing. So the first phase of improving communication is helping each person learn how to listen.
But before anyone can develop the patience and understanding to be a good listener they must be HEARD, because that’s what has been missing in their relationship. They have not felt heard or listened to. That’s where my job begins and I provide it for each person; I listen, hear, understand, help if needed, I am available and present. This provides a release to the person expressing, and it models for the partner how to do it.
After the exercise it’s not surprising to feel a lot of tension leave the room. It’s so simple, and so important. As humans we require some basics; to feel safe, to feel loved, and to feel like we matter. When we listen to our partners, I mean really listen, we give them exactly what they need.
Be sure and watch Feel Better Live, our show about relationships, live on the web, Thursdays at 6:00PM.