“For years I’ve felt so drowned out by you when you start talking, its less like talking with me, more like you’re giving me a lecture about something. You don’t seem to realise that I just switch off and wait for you to stop…..I can’t listen to you anymore, I can barely summon up the energy to try and interrupt either……I just want out, I want to get away from you…”
Have you ever wondered how well your partner thinks you “listen and pay attention” to him or her when they are speaking to you. Or about your own experience of being “listened to” when you are speaking. Maybe your marital or romantic relationship has become drowned out by voices as you talk over each other, interrupt or shout. These are all clear signs of “not listening” and not being willing to “attend” to your partner.
We often learn styles of talking through childhood and adolescence from family and school influences. This is the developmental period when a person may learn to speak out assertively about his or her needs, views, likes and dislikes or to become less external and to become inhibited about personal expression. If a relationship draws both of these types of communicators together, whilst there might be a sense of harmony initially, as time evolves, communication may gradually begin to dwindle as these personal styles evoke feelings of conflict and imbalance. If one partner is a domineering verbal orator and the other, shy and more introverted, then getting through to each other may be increasingly challenging. The dominant speaker partner may become increasingly overbearing to the other who may find themselves wanting to retreat, becoming less inclined to engage verbally and possibly finding ways of avoiding conversation. Eventually, communication may breakdown completely with both partners feeling unheard and isolated from each other and maybe separation may seem like their only solution.
If this is resonating with your relationship, then perhaps this article is allowing you an objective perspective whereby you can make some sense of your communication breakdown. Without the ability to “speak” and be “heard,” clearly a couple are going to struggle to get through to each other and to feel validated and respected. If you want to address communication difficulties, then a first step that might be useful, is to learn to listen and speak in a more balanced way. You could try by introducing a “taking turns” strategy with a set time of say a minute each, whereby you agree to wait until it is your turn before interrupting your partner when you are speaking. It is a good idea to have a clock with a timer so that you can easily see when it is time to swap. The purpose of the exercise is to learn to really tune in to what your partner is saying and to “let go” of any urges you have to justify, explain, challenge, disagree, etc…. the focus is on the “style” of communicating and less on “content.”
Try and see your partner’s point of view and if you are being challenged about something you say or do that is difficult, then be willing to see this from your partner’s perspective. Learning to let go of the interpretations and assumptions that are easily triggered for all of us, in conversation with others, can be a very helpful relational tool.
If you would like support in managing your relational conflict and communication styles, then couples therapy might be useful. Contact The Hove Counselling Practice if you would like to arrange a free initial assessment.