How to Make Your Partner Feel Heard in a Relationship
“I just don’t feel heard.”
I have discovered that communication is a learned skill and you can make tremendous improvements between you and your partner quickly to grow over time. Check out this recent podcast episode we created to let you listen anywhere, anytime!
Communication is a learned skill and you can make tremendous improvements between you and your partner over time.
“You can’t say the wrong thing to the right person.” -Febury Hassan. Additionally, you can’t say the right thing to the wrong person.
While true in theory, communication goes a lot further than feeling heard the first time we speak our truth to our partner. What your partner hears and understands is an integral part which means that both involved have a responsibility to communicate well. The listening, hearing, and digesting of the meaning behind our words goes a long way to building a connection with our partner through effective communication.
Learning how to be a good listener is a foundational principle of finding and creating lasting love. Active listening creates a space for our partner to feel heard and looks a lot like this:
- Body language- nodding of the head, relaxed jaw, turned toward each other
- Eye contact- not looking at distractions around the room, but looking your partner in the eyes
- Being present- eliminate distractions like phones, the television, radio, books, other people
- Affirming their statements- simple words like “mmhmm”, “yes”, “I hear you”; all go a long way
- Waiting for your turn to speak- letting your partner finish before you begin planning your response is a big way to stay present and engaged to ensure they feel heard.
Sounds simple enough, right? Active listening is just the start to creating space to allow your partner to feel heard and seen.
In the past, when you’ve heard “I just don’t feel heard” from a partner, were you a little confused or caught off guard? Like a lot of men, I was oblivious to what was actually being said with the words I was hearing. What I needed to come to understand is that if a partner says those five little words, it means they have been feeling that way for quite a while. They have just come to a point where their frustration comes out for the first time in a blunt way.
I felt as if I have always tried my best to be present when dating someone new to experience all that person has to offer. But I’ve realized it takes more effort to fully HEAR my partner than putting away your phone and planning dates that aren’t centered around the TV; like “Netflix and chill”.
But eliminating distractions like your phone and the TV is rarely enough. You must be intentional about going deeper than the surface level statements your partner makes, especially early on in a relationship when you are getting to know someone. Let’s use a real life example from two of our listeners to illustrate how the beginning of a relationship can be an exciting period of discovery!
Jane has been seeing Mark once a week for about a month and is interested in discovering if he is the right fit for her. Her intentions have always been to find a long term relationship but doesn’t want to “define the relationship” because she feels like Mark should take the lead.
Mark has been hesitating to bring up the exclusivity conversation with Jane because both he and Jane are focused on their careers and work long hours. He ultimately wants to make Jane a priority in his life but doesn’t want to put apply pressure to a new relationship that has already shown great promise.
When we ask our community what holds them back in relationships, the number one answer is fear. Both Mark and Jane have fear and hesitation around defining the relationship but are excited about where it could lead so they have kept seeing each other regularly. Ok, now the scene is set for you.
It’s Saturday night and Mark picks Jane up for dinner at his favorite restaurant and afterward, they return to her home for wine and conversation on the couch. Jane begins by saying, “You had a busy week! How was your Friday night?”
Mark doesn’t immediately sense that Jane is digging for something with her question but he immediately dodges the true intent and reacts with, “Oh, you are spot on! I just needed to crash after another long week. How was your night?”
Feeling a little defeated, Jane looks at him and replies, “Oh, it was low key and I stayed in to spend time with myself but I was hoping I would have heard from you.”
In Mark’s gut, he immediately feels like Jane’s response has a deeper meaning, but can’t quite put it together in his mind. He quickly remembers that he hadn’t texted Jane since setting up plans a few days ago but he also has a feeling that it isn’t the real issue at hand. In this moment, Mark has a lot of choices but let’s focus on two that our listeners commonly experience.
He can continue to make Jane feel as if he is avoiding the true intent of her original question and follow up comment. Mark can continue to live unconscious to his partner’s needs and go about sharing how busy his week was because his fear of diving deeper holds him back. How do you think this choice would make Jane feel so early on in a promising relationship? Yep, pretty rejected and disheartened, don’t you think?
Mark may catch an earful about it in the future, get a stronger sense of her frustration, or miss out on another date entirely because Jane was already asking herself if Mark was the right fit…
On the other hand…
Curiosity builds the bridge to connection. Brick by brick, you can bridge the gap between distance and connection through curious questions that can truly take the conversation to a deeper level.
If Mark is choosing to stay present and tuning into his intuition, he would realize that there is always another layer behind what Jane is bringing it up tonight. How do you think Mark could best make Jane feel heard in this moment?
You’re correct, there are lots of ways. But the quickest way to bridge the gap that is widening between them is to be curious about what Jane is feeling. Again, curiosity builds the bridge to connection.
Mark would best make Jane feel heard if he quietly takes three to five deep breaths and asks a follow up question to take the conversation to a deeper level. That question could sound like this, “Let me see if I am hearing you correctly. What you’re saying is that you felt ignored last night?”
Jane can then say that she did feel ignored and that it would have been nice to hear from Mark; she was able to clearly state her needs AFTER he asked a follow up question and she felt seen, heard, and safe in his presence. Feels authentic, natural, and healthy, right?
This exchange gives Mark an authentic opportunity to ask Jane an even more curious and deeper question to build the bridge to connection by saying, “What are more things important to you that ou would like to see in our relationship?”
In doing so, Mark has opened up the conversation to define the relationship that they both sought after by dating for a month or so. We would like to take this chance to give you even more resources to help your partner feel heard in the relationship which can create intimacy and depth.
Below is a video that illustrates well that there is something else your partner is looking to speak with you about… “It’s Not About the Nail”
How to make your partner feel heard in a relationship looks like this:
- Take time to pause and take deep breaths which allow you as the active listener to digest what your partner may be saying underneath their words. If you are staying present to the moment, while trusting your intuition and instincts, these opportunities will be easy to spot.
- Avoid getting defensive. Get curious about your partner’s feelings and you will be able to ask better questions than if you had jumped to conclusions and assumed your partner is accusing you of not understanding or reading their mind. This helps open up the dialogue and curiosity builds the bridge to connection.
- Reframe your question. Instead of asking, “Why would you say that?” which could put your partner immediately on the defensive, ask a reframing question that starts with, “What I’m hearing you say is…” and then repeat back to them what you THINK you heard. This is known as Emotional Focused Therapy, or EFT.
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