You and your partner are in the midst of a disagreement; you’re both upset, tempers are beginning to flare, and the verbal lashings are about to begin… STOP! Remember that nothing of any positive consequence can come from an interaction where two people are angry and defensive. You’re not properly attending to the issues because you’re too busy trying to convince your man that you’re right! The first step to productive listening is to defuse any potential conflicts by each of you setting the tone for positive communication and approaching each other with conscious intent for trying to understand each other and define the problem. You may need to take a “Time-Out” before proceeding with your talk to help calm yourself down and get centered. Refer to the article “Calming the Storm In Your Relationship” from the second issue of The Gay Love Coach Newsletter here for how to properly conduct a Time-Out and other anger management strategies.
So now you’ve come back together again after your cool-down period all relaxed and ready to be attentive. Great! You and your lover should go to a place free from distractions so nothing will disturb you and face each other, as you are now each going to take turns expressing your thoughts and feelings about your issue at-hand. One of you will be the speaker and the other will be the listener. No interrupting, Listener! Speaker gets center stage right now—you’ll have your chance later! Speaker should have 3-5 minutes to share his perspective to keep the conversation concise and focused, and this also avoid the monopolizing of “airtime”; typically one partner can be more verbal than the other and this allows equal sharing-time.
Now it’s time to respond to demonstrate that you really heard your partner’s message and can articulate his thoughts, feelings, needs, and experience non-defensively and without judgment. Speaker goes through a three-step process now to enact this type of scenario. Relationship expert Harville Hendrix developed a technique called Intentional Dialogue to provide a structure for open communication. The steps involved in this strategy include:
- Mirroring: Repeat what you heard your partner say in your own
words. You might use a sentence stem like “What I heard you
say was…” Your partner will confirm if you are accurate or
will help clarify the message for you until you can mirror it
precisely. Avoid parroting back what your lover said word-for-
word; instead, paraphrase back what you heard in your own
language for more meaning and depth.
- Validation: Find some grain of logic in what your partner
communicated and convey this back to him. “That makes sense to
me because…” is a good lead-in. You don’t have to agree with
what your partner said, but it’s vital to tell him how and why
his experience makes sense to you for the ultimate in making
him feel acknowledged and safe.
- Empathy: Put yourself in your boyfriend’s shoes and imagine what
the experience must feel like for him, and say something to
the effect of “I imagine that might make you feel…”
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