In our committed relationships we often feel an urgency to be heard, "seen", and agreed with. To feel important, visible, and accepted is a need we are born with. However, the belief that we need to be in agreement in order to be close is learned from our environment. It is not necessary to see things the same way in order to be emotionally connected. In fact, one of the most exciting experiences that a couple can have occurs when differences are respectfully and energetically explored.

The ingredient often missing in our interactions is the act of listening to each other with genuine interest and curiosity. Isn’t it obvious that if no one is listening no one will be heard? Out of our need to be "right", we block our ability to hear what our partner wants to communicate to us. We thereby increase the possibility that our partner will respond by doing the same thing. It is a clear truth that a person who feels heard is more likely to listen in response.

There are many elements to good listening, but the three basic ones are mirroring, validation, and empathy. In mirroring we paraphrase our partner’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings so that our partner has a chance to clarify for us what he/she is meaning to say. In validation, we let our partner know that his/her reality "makes sense" even if we do not agree with that perspective. When we are empathic, we let our partner know that we can understand or even share his/her feelings and thereby connect at an emotional level even without agreement.

This process, which is called dialogue, can seem simple. Strong feelings, however, can make it anything but simple. Disciplined practice and guidance may be necessary to make it feel "natural".

"Repairing" Injury in a Relationship

We will inevitably and often unintentionally hurt each other in committed relationships. Dr. John Gottman’s research demonstrates how repairing that injury contributes significantly to the longevity of the relationship. There are things we can say or do that can repair a hurt relationship. When repair is successful it has profound positive effect on the outcome of continuing relationship. This requires both that the attempt to repair is made and that the injured partner accepts and allows the repair effort to heal the misunderstanding. There are numerous possibilities but the following will give some ideas for how repair might be expressed.

  • "I can see that what I said hurt you. I’m sorry".
  • "I might be misunderstanding and overreacting to what you’re trying to tell me. Could you say it another way"?
  • "I’m feeling reactive and don’t want to say something I’ll regret. Let’s take a break and come back to it later, okay"?
  • "I am feeling hurt and doubt you are meaning to do that. I need to understand what is under your anger. Could you help me "get" it"?
  • "I know we’re both trying to make an important point. I’m willing to keep listening until I understand yours better."
  • "Let me start again in a softer way".
  • "Thank you for at least listening and trying to understand".
  • "I know my tone makes it hard to hear me, let me try to say it differently".
  • "I want to be gentler to you right now and I’m trying to find a way."

The "bottom line" is we need to remember that we live and act out of different inner "worlds" and, if we hang-in with and trust the process with openness and curiosity, we can introduce each other to whole new galaxies!