Listening vs Hearing
Learning to listen is a skill. It’s different than “hearing”. Usually, when we are in conflict with another person we are listening to respond instead of listening to understand.
We wait for a pause so that we can state our beliefs, we interrupt to correct the person on minute details, we insert ourselves into their story. We offer solutions waaayyyyyyy before we have any idea of whether or not they’ve considered their own solutions.
When couples get into conflict I’m like ”oh, I didn’t know you both have your JD in law”.
“Isn’t it true that you actually said (insert here) on March 29, at 4PM. You just told our therapist it was in the morning but it was in the afternoon.”
“Ummm no! That’s not how it happened. I have my phone right here. Let me show you. You didn’t say you were sad you said you were upset. Aha they are different!”
“Tell me when! Tell me exactly when I said that! Tell me!”
“Well, I mean sending a flirty text isn’t technically cheating. Technically what I did was…”
“You forgot to include the part about your mother. You need to include that part for your perception to be accurate”.
Seriously, a contentious relationship looks more like a courtroom than a bedroom.
Lawyers, I love ya. My dad is a lawyer. But your skills don’t belong in an intimate relationship.
If you find yourself lawyering your partner (or being lawyered) it means you’ve gotten into a habit of conflict being about winning instead of growing. It means defensiveness, making a case, and proving a point have become more important than taking responsibility, listening to perspective, and creating connection and understanding.
How to listen to your partner
Learn to listen like a diplomat instead. It doesn’t mean you don’t have an ultimate need. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want a solution. What it does mean is that you’re willing to listen, to come together, and to put love and connection over fighting and winning.
Learning to slow down the conversation, show curiosity, and put your own “agenda” to the side while you’re trying to understand their perspective will improve your conflict conversations.
At the end, validate instead of problem solve. You can say “it makes sense you’d feel that way” instead of “why don’t you do this”.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is the founder and Clinical Director of A Better Life Therapy. She supports individuals and couples to develop healthy and fulfilling relationships. She is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, right next to City Hall!