You're still in the midst of a conflict with your partner, but nothing seems to alleviate the tension. You talk, and talk, and talk, and … nothing changes. In fact, you feel like anything you say makes the situation worse. And you're probably asking yourself Why won’t s/he partner listen? Why is s/he closed off and unreachable?
So you continue to verbally kick, scream, and cry out to be heard. And still, it feels like you’re talking to a brick wall. What gives?
Communication is one of the toughest parts of any relationship. If you want to get your partner to listen without raising your voice, here are ten tips to improve your approach.
1. Speak concisely, then pause.
Less is more when trying to be heard. Don’t go on and on, trying to beat your point into the ground. Say what you need to say and then pause. Let your words become absorbed by your partner before expecting a response.
2. Listen. But actually listen.
Are you like most people when communicating with your partner? That is, do you listen in anticipation of making your next point?
Or do you really tune in?
I suggest the latter. When it’s your partner’s turn to speak, don’t think about what you’ll say when he’s done talking. Genuinely listen. Try to understand his/her perspective first before responding.
3. Know that you can choose soothing language, even when making a point.
The second you escalate an argument is the second your partner stops listening. Period.
Often times, we think that being firm and direct with about our needs (and possible grievances) requires us to speak abrasively. But the way we approach articulating our feelings is a distinct choice from expressing the feelings themselves.
So use calming words to keep the conversation civil. Your partner is much more likely to listen when s/he doesn’t feel like s/he’s being criticized, blamed and shamed under the dramatic magnification of a microscope.
4. Speak from an “I” perspective.
The only person you can speak for is yourself. Describe how you’re feeling and what you want to have happen. Avoid the risk of sounding like you’re judging your partner or making assumptions by keeping your statements centered on your perspective.
5. Don’t be vague, and stay focused!
When you expect your partner to read between the lines and understand your feelings automatically, everyone loses. Let's face it: no one is a mind reader.
Refine your statements to be clear, concise, and focused on the matter at hand. If you're having an issue about cleaning your apartment, keep it to the isolated situation that catalyzed the argument (e.g. a pile of dirty dishes on a given morning). Don't globalize to make the conversation about your partner "always being so messy."
By being completely clear about your intentions and meanings, you make it easier for your partner to listen to what you’re saying.
6. Balance negative points with positive.
No one likes a “Negative Nancy," so try to find the silver linings in each situation. You can balance your statements by bringing both positive and negative points into the conversation.
For example, if your partner has been immensely busy with social engagements at the expense of you two spending alone time together, perhaps you say, "I love how much you cultivate your friendships. It's really awesome and a part of why I love you. But I also feel like I want us to be more mindful of making intentional plans to spend time together."
7. Stay on point (without bringing up the past).
You’ve had disagreements in the past, but those were already (or may still need to be) resolved. Leave them in the past or for another discussion. Like I said in #5, keep the conversation focused on the points you want to address now.
8. Don’t accuse or blame.
Playing the blame-game is a quick way to get your partner to shut off and stop listening. Avoid making accusations, and instead, speak from the heart, about your emotions, and tell your partner how you see the situation from your emotional position. S/he’ll be much more receptive to your message when he doesn’t feel like he’s sitting on a trial.
9. Take ownership.
It’s rare that fault ever lies solely on one person’s shoulders. If something is wrong, take ownership for your portion. You’ll take the heat off your partner, making it easier to convey your points and come to a mutual agreement instead of sounding like your blaming and being argumentative.
10. Agree to disagree, respectfully
Understand that you might not always agree, and that's perfectly OK. Even if you cannot reach a full agreement, you can still respect the other person’s position on the matter at hand. At least you know you’ve voiced your perspective and opinions, and you were both heard in the process.
Everyone has disagreements, but they don't have to drain all of your energy. With these tips, you'll be better prepared to handle tricky situations with resilience and ease, and be able to bask in the strengths of your relationship rather than the weaknesses.
Check out this free audio lesson from relationship psychotherapist, Rachel Moheban-Wachtel for further actionable steps on how to get your partner listen to you without yelling.