We all desire to be seen, heard, and understood, especially by our spouse. We yearn to hear them say, “I am listening. I get it. I understand your frustration and pain. I’m so sorry you are hurt. I am here for you.” We need our partner to show interest in what’s happening in our heart and feel they care about how it is affecting us. Understanding is what keep marriages in tact, not love.
Don’t get me wrong, love is important, but love without understanding will wilt like a flower without water. So how do you stop your marriage from reaching that point? These five changes will help you better understand your spouse and truly love them:
Be fully present.
You don’t need to anything but listen when your spouse is talking. It is not your job to try to fix the situation or make things better. Your only role is to be someone your partner can share their human experience with. Eliminate anything that may deter your attention. Turn off the TV, put away your cell phone, set up the kids with an activity or put the conversation on hold until you are alone. Give your spouse your full attention and listen.
Put Your Spouse First.
In his book The 7 Habits for Highly Successful People Dr. Stephen R. Covey teaches to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Try to avoid preparing your responses while your partner is speaking. If you are formulating what you’re going to say, you won’t be able to deeply digest what they’re saying, preventing true understanding. When your partner feels understood, they will naturally reciprocate with curiosity about what you think and feel, giving you an opportunity to share your perspective.
Avoid just talking at each other and start sharing with one another. To ensure you’re not misinterpreting and to let your partner know you are listening ask questions. But the key is to ask the right questions at the right time. The best questions are open-ended since they give the speaker a broader choice in how to respond, whereas closed questions only allow very limited responses. Open-ended questions often start with when, where, how, or why.
Avoid complaints and defensiveness.
Defensiveness and complaints are toxic relationship patterns that prevent intimate connection. Critiques inadvertently put the other spouse on the defensive. It communicates to your partner, “it’s not me, it’s you.” However, if you take some responsibility, even an iota, then your spouse will be more open to your perspective. Once your spouse feels safe and heard, share your feelings and ask for what you need.
Manage your own stuff.
Understanding our spouse also requires understanding ourselves. It’s difficult to be there for your partner when you have strong emotions of your own bubbling up. Take time to slow down and connect with your own feelings and needs. Pay attention to your body. If you start to feel overwhelmed and emotionally flooded, ask to put the conversation on hold.
To Understand is to Love
The key to enriching your marriage, is to acknowledge and respect each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams. (Lisitsa) Understanding our partners demands we be fully present, put our spouse first, ask questions, avoid complaints or defensiveness, and manage our selves. It requires patience and practice, but it is well worth it for your spouse to feel seen for who they are. To truly love your spouse, seek to understand them.
OTHER POSTS YOU MAY LIKE:
Benson, K. (2018, February 16). Understanding Must Precede Advice. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/understanding-must-precede-advice/
Brittle, Z. (2017, January 2). U is for Understanding. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/u-is-for-understanding/
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People: Restoring The Character Ethic. New York : Free Press, 2004. Print.
Lisitsa, E. (2019, May 30). Overcoming Gridlocked Conflict. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/overcoming-gridlocked-conflict/