THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Laurie Gerber Headshot

Pop Quiz: Do You Know How to Talk So Your Partner Will Listen?

Posted: Updated:

Our relationships are the most important thing in our lives. I want to talk about how to build a great relationship with your partner. But the points apply to your parents, siblings, co-workers, boss, clients, children and friends as well.

Sometimes when you talk to someone and tell them your concerns, it opens up a world of intimacy and connection. You feel so relieved. And sometimes telling them "your truth" really backfires and you end up with even more animosity or tension between you. We want you to improve your skills in creating connection and positive results, so here's a pop quiz:

Can you tell the difference between these two examples?

1) Mike, I'm upset and I just have to confront you about something. I've been holding it in and I just feel like I'm going to burst. I feel like I am always looking out for you. I pick up your dry cleaning, I make dinner, I plan romantic occasions for us. I really try to think about how you feel. And you never do that for me. You don't even care. Sometimes I feel like I don't even exist, like you care more about your (car, job, hobby, friend, ex, parents, gadgets) than you do about me. Like the other day when I was trying to tell you about the fight I had with my (boss, sister, co-worker, parent, jogging buddy) and you kept looking at the TV, I mean, really? How could you. I am so hurt.

And:

2) Mike, there's something on my mind about our relationship. You aren't in trouble. I'm just struggling to sort something out in my head and I don't want to figure it out alone. If I do, I end up speaking for you in my mind and that's not fair! When would be good for you to discuss so I can get your perspective?

At the appointed time:

Thank you so much for talking this through with me. I know I am probably overreacting and I know I can get emotional about things and it clouds my ability to see all sides. So I apologize to you in advance for that possibility and also for the fact that I am probably emotional because I didn't bring this up sooner. Anyway, here goes.

So, the other day, when I was trying to tell you about the fight I had with my (boss, sister, co-worker, parent, jogging buddy) and you kept looking at the TV, it sent me into a tizzy. It hurt my feelings. I thought I was being pretty clear that I needed your attention and you didn't seem to pick up on it. Then I started listing to myself all the things I do to show consideration for you and got all upset by what I felt like was an imbalance. I know you had a long day too and you were trying to unwind, but I wish you would have given me your full attention. I just needed someone to listen. So, there you have it. Sorry, I didn't say something sooner. I don't want to be holding this against you. I hope it makes some sense to you. What do you remember from that interaction? What was going on for you? What do you think of what I said?

Whenever you deliver "feedback" you have to do it with grace or else the other person can't listen very well? Did you pick up on all the forms of grace in the second example.

  • Respect for the person's time by asking permission to proceed and for a set aside time that works for them.
  • Framing the conversation with a positive context -- being able to have perspective in this example.
  • Apologizing for the impact of the truth-teller's side of the dynamic -- in this case, being overly emotional and not bringing it up sooner.
  • Sharing in a non-accusatory tone that gives room for understanding. Owning one's own reactions.
  • Asking for the other person's perspective.

Of course, this is also followed up with good listening and some negotiation about how you might handle similar situations in the future, so that they are more harmonious for all. I'm curious to hear what stands in your way of being able to be this graceful with your partners. Please share in the comments below.

Why don't we give this grace to our partners? Here's my take:

Because we think it means we lose power. We don't want to be vulnerable, to give them the power, or sometimes even the comfort that comes with grace. Perhaps you think the wrongs they did justify this treatment in return. But if you want love in your relationship, consider that it's usually a case of "two peas in a pod." If you are punishing, you probably feel punished, and vice versa. That means, even if it's with words or moods, or looks or gestures, or the absence of physical affection you, are in a war. And you are fighting, using the weapons you have: withholding attention, affection, sex, listening or just being disapproving, righteous, spiteful. Nonphysical weapons are plenty powerful.

It sometimes helps my clients to be less war-like when they realize they are in fact being war-like. That's the first step. As my husband likes to remind me, you can't win a conversation and you certainly can't win a relationship. So I am writing to remind you that you love this person, you may have even promised to love him or her above all others in front of all your friends and family. Consider dropping your weapons and fighting for love and connection instead.

Hopefully, the tools above help. We have many more. On April 15, we are running our very practical, super results-producing four-week teleseries called The Art of Tough Conversations during which you will learn, practice and implement the tools above. Unfortunately, we weren't taught in school how to have deep, honest conversations with the people we love. But it's not too late.

From Our Partners