How Can I Mend My Relationship?

Communication is the golden key to a better relationship. Communication is as much about listening as talking. Hearing is not the same as listening. For example, children with attention deficit disorder may have very good hearing but their listening capabilities are very poor, so they find it difficult to attend to what is really being said and subsequently communication and relationships are difficult.

Here is an example of an exchange between a couple where they are hearing but not listening:

A: The house is a mess. Why don't you ever clean up?

B: You can talk, you left it in a state this morning. There was loads of washing up in the sink. Anyway, what do you think I've been doing all day? I have my own work to do.

A: That's not the point. You have more time than I do. It only takes a few minutes just to do a bit to help. You never do anything. It's typical.

B: I don't do anything to help? If it wasn't for me we wouldn't even be able to live here. Who do you think pays most of the bills?

A: The bills! For God's sake don't talk to me about bloody bills...

Here we see an argument rapidly starting to escalate. In the end, when the shouting stage is reached, one or the other will depart the scene, probably slamming a door. There is no conclusion, no resolution to the issue. Instead there is an open wound. Nothing is healed. Neither is really listening to the other because each is too busy thinking what they are going to say in reply. Both are intent on defending their position at all costs and launching counter-attacks. It starts off as a skirmish and escalates into warfare.

So what can get a better result? Let's replay it but differently:

A: The house is a mess. Why don't you ever clean up?
(notice how A feels angry and is taking one example - the house in a mess - and accusing B of not ever cleaning up. A wants to be heard but suspects that won't happen so is making as big an impact as they can to try and force B to really listen. They want their feelings acknowledged, to be valued. Importantly, this does not mean B has to agree A is right but for there to be progress it does mean A must feel listened to).

B: (different response) It sounds like you feel really upset? Like perhaps you feel I don't care enough about you or the house?
(here B is reflecting back to A what B senses A is feeling. By doing this B is providing evidence that A is being listened to. Evidence carries weight. B is saying in effect that B can see A's feelings are real. B also takes it a stage further by responding with questions. This invites A to respond so A gets the message B really wants to hear what A has to say. This is likely to get a very different response from A. Compared to the "That's not the point. You have more time than I do...." response there is likely to be a calmer, less retaliatory response. There is less need for A to feel angry or to shout as now A starts to feel listened to and the feelings valued. So A's response might now be:

A: Well, yes, I do sometimes feel you don't care enough about me or what I want.
(still some anger but less of it. Being listened to starts to defuse the anger. It starts to open up things. There is the beginning of communication).

So B might now respond:

B: That maybe it's not just me not doing enough in the house but that it seems to you I don't value you enough either?
(again B reflects back and again by using a question invites a response from A).

There are no accusations so there is no need to defend or counter-attack. We see the beginning of hope for this relationship. It will need practice and support from a third party, e.g. a counsellor, but it can be the start of something different and better.

Bear in mind most partners do not want vengeance. They want to be listened to, to be valued, basically to love and be loved. As ex-Labour Minister Claire Short once said: "We're all searching for love. Some of us are wise enough or lucky enough to find it".

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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