Have you ever considered that your partner has their own emotional needs too and might be struggling to express them to you? Ever wonder what their needs might be?
Just like you, your partner has emotional needs too. They also want to be heard and understood by you. However, they might be expressing themselves to you from a place of anger instead of vulnerability. They might struggle to be vulnerable either because the relationship does not feel safe enough, they never learned how to be vulnerable with another person, or they are afraid to be vulnerable because they have been hurt in the past. With the lack of vulnerability, they might not be doing a very good job of articulating their needs in a manner than can be heard or understood. In the absence of vulnerability, they might be communicating harshly with you. This will likely make you either defend yourself and attack back or shut down and walk away. In either case, you are no longer listening to them as you are both reacting and responding to their words.
Listening to respond and listening to understand are very different from each other. When you listen to respond, you are not present in the moment. You are in your head, thinking of ways to defend yourself, hurt them, interrupt them, and outsmart them. Or, you are too overwhelmed to pay attention to what they are saying and respond by appearing disinterested, staying quiet, or walking away. Both types of responses leave neither party feeling heard or understood.
When you listen to understand, you ask questions to help you see things from your partner’s perspective. You are listening with the intention of being in their shoes for a few moments. While it is very hard to listen with the intention of understanding someone when you feel triggered yourself, it isn’t impossible. It is something that takes time to learn and practice during those difficult conversations with your partner. Below are steps which you can learn and practice with your partner when they seem to be angry or attacking you:
1️⃣ Self-regulate. Until your nervous system is calm enough to listen, you will be reactive.
2️⃣ Validate their feelings. Validation is not the same as agreeing to someone’s perspective. In other words, you don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but you do have to acknowledge their feelings. This will help them soften up because they will feel heard and seen by you.
3️⃣ Ask questions. As they begin to calm down and soften up on their delivery, you can begin to ask them genuine questions to understand their perspective by putting yourself in their shoes for a few moments.
4️⃣ Be vulnerable yourself. Accept your mistakes and share with them how you can see why they perceived things a certain way. While you may have your perspective, you can acknowledge their perspective as well. Two people can have very different realities of the same situation. In fact, if there was a third person present, they may have an entirely different reality of the situation because everyone perceives things differently. And it’s okay for multiple realities to co-exist for the sake of understanding each other.
5️⃣ Ask them what their needs are. If they are unable to articulate (because many people are not aware of their own needs), then ask them what you can do differently, or what can be done differently, to prevent the situation from occurring again.
Next time you find yourself wanting to interrupt your partner to defend yourself, attack back, shut down, and/or walk away, remember that they have needs too and they might be struggling to talk to you from a vulnerable place. Help them, and help yourself, by practicing the five steps mentioned above to understand their needs.