By Author, Rob Peach
Posted in Relationship Therapy Toronto
Have you ever really listened to your partner? I mean REALLY listened? Listened with no intention other than to just to better understand where your partner might be coming from? Have you ever tried to listen to them without interrupting? Without responding? Without judgment?
In my practice, I work with many couples that struggle with communicating openly and honestly with each another. When we ourselves struggle with mixed or, at times, conflicting emotions, it can be hard to share our thoughts and feelings clearly. At other times, our fears of being hurt can prevent us from truly listening to our partner in case we hear something that might be difficult for us to accept.
One of the most common things I hear from clients after a session is that ‘they feel so much better’ because they were able to ‘get things off their chest’. When I hear that, I hear that they have been suffering with difficult emotions in silence. It’s also a good clue that that they may be holding back from sharing their true thoughts and emotions with their partner.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn’s fourth precept, ‘Deep Listening and Loving Speech’, reminds us that suffering can result from speaking without thinking and from a lack of ability to listen to others.
In therapy, I like to challenge my clients to agree to try to listen to their partner for one full week without responding to their concerns. Thich Nhat Han refers to this as ‘deep listening’, or listening only for the goal of unburdening someone else of the weight of their thoughts.
This ‘deep listening’ exercise can give each partner a chance to fully express themselves without the risk that their sharing will result in an argument. It gives the ‘listening’ partner a chance to hear and accept the thoughts and feelings of the ‘sharing’ partner. It gives the ‘sharing’ partner and chance to be heard.
Unconditional acceptance and valuing each other’s experiences, regardless of how they may differ from one’s own, is a radical practice. It makes us vulnerable to hurt and pain. It may force us to put our emotions aside temporarily to make room for those of others.
On the flip side, it gives us a chance to be unburdened, to be less alone with difficult emotions and to share more of ourselves with our partner.
There is value in both understanding and being understood by your partner. Learning the tools you need to ‘listen’ can help. Therapy can help you and your partner to be better able to honestly communicate with each other, with less fear of being misunderstood or of being hurt.