By Georgianna Donadio, PhD – When couples are asked what it is in their relationship that makes them feel fulfilled, they inevitably answer that they feel “understood and cared about.” In contrast, bad feelings and unhappiness stem from the realization that the person we are most intimate with and care most deeply about doesn’t understand who we are and what we are feeling. Without understanding, how can you make your partner happy (and vice versa)?
The Great Unknown
In order to feel loved, we must first experience that others understand and regard us as good and valuable human beings. If your significant other doesn’t get who you are and how you feel, you’re left with a sense of being misjudged. It can also lead to loneliness because only someone who truly knows us, rather than just thinks they know us, can love us for who we actually are.
When you are in a relationship, you do not want to continually explain yourself to another person or to justify your values, beliefs or the choices you make in your life. If, after a time, a partner cannot be really present, listening to what you have to share and sharing his own thoughts and feelings, the relationship quickly deteriorates. This is why one of the important focal points in good couples counseling is learning what is called “active listening.”
The main purpose of active listening is to let your partner know that you are truly listening and hearing what he says and that you are really “present” to him as well, meaning he has your full attention.
When you give someone your full attention, you can better understand how he feels and you can grasp the point of view and opinions involved in the important discussions that make up all relationships.
A key component of active listening is reflection. You have to consider what your partner is trying to communicate so that you can be sure that you understand your partner’s message, that you don’t misinterpret what your partner is saying.
When you do this, you should ask questions to clarify, such as, “Are you saying that you were upset that I did not go to your aunt’s house for dinner on Sunday, even though you had said it didn’t matter if I went or not?”
Partners must work together to achieve clarification of communication, participation in active communication and active listening to allow a relationship to take on a greater depth, intimacy and fulfillment.
Effective communication is always the key to any good relationship. For a free chapter download from the award-winning Changing Behavior, visit changingbehavior.org.
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