Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Photo: Michael Coghlan/Flickr
Every person looks at the world through their own unique lens – a fact that makes relationships interesting and rich, but also makes them challenging at times. Differences in perspective can make it hard for you and your partner to understand each other, and can eventually create emotional distance between you. To bridge this gap, and get even closer, try to get a better understanding of your partner’s experience of life, and how that experience might be motivating their actions.
To see the world through your partner’s eyes, consider what they may be observing, thinking, and feeling. The more detailed you are, the more you can understand and have empathy for their experiences. For instance, while Bruce knew that Ellen was committed to exercising, he understood her better – and felt closer to her – after she explained her long road from being overweight with self-esteem issues to feeling empowered by her commitment to eating healthy, exercising, and keeping active doing things that make her happy, such as volunteering at the local Democratic Party office. Importantly, understanding or having empathy for your partner does not mean that you have to agree with them. It just means that you “get” what is going on for them. (Bruce, a lifelong Republican, admired Ellen’s commitment to being politically active, though he took issue with her politics.) Similarly, you might think your partner has created their own problems, but you can still have compassion for their current pain.
In my book, Insecure in Love, I explain that you can get to know your partner from the inside out by doing the following when your partner is talking about their experiences:
- Give your partner all of your attention—no multitasking.
- Tell your partner you’re interested in hearing about the topic.
- At appropriate times, ask for more detail or explanation so you can really “get it” (the facts and their thoughts and their feelings).
- Note nonverbal cues for a better sense of the intensity and quality of their experience.
- Be open to their perspective, particularly when it doesn’t match yours.
- Multitask (not even to just look at that incoming text).
- Interrupt, unless you are confused and need clarification.
- Assume you know what they are thinking or feeling.
- Try to solve a problem (unless you are asked to).
- Tell them they are wrong about their experience.
This way of listening applies whether your partner is expressing meandering thoughts or talking about important life issues. By understanding your partner better, you will likely respond in ways that make your partner feel understood and supported. And so, in the end, understanding your partner more fully will help to strengthen the bond between you.
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