We all want our significant other to pay attention to what we are saying, understand where we are coming from, and adjust their behavior according to how we feel — but that doesn't always happen. Luckily, there are a number of ways to help your partner be a better a listener if you're not feeling heard in your relationship. Communication takes some work, and sometimes you need to think out of the box to get your needs met without causing conflict.
"Couples often have a hard time communicating because they think about what works for them and don’t use the timing and approaches that work for their partner," therapist and relationship expert Sarah E. Clark, LMFT, LMHC, CVRT tells Bustle. "When we try to get our partner’s attention and get brushed off in some way, we take it personally rather than trying to figure out what got in the way. If you want your partner to hear you, then you have to approach them in the way that works for them."
Each person has their own preferred form of communication, but there are some tried and true tricks that tend to work for most people. Here are seven clever ways to help your partner to be a better listener.
1Start Your Sentences With "I" Rather Than "You"
The way you phrase your concerns makes a difference in how your partner receives your statements. Avoid leading with "you" phrases like "You always...." or "You should try to ..." "Leading with the word 'you' nearly instantly creates a defensive posture in your partner who goes into a strategy to defend themselves the minute you stop talking," psychologist Deborah E. Dyer, Ph.D. tells Bustle. Instead, lead with "I" statements, such as "I think," "I feel," "I believe," etc. "By owning your own thoughts and feelings about the situation, you immediately reduce the defensiveness in your partner because they aren't feeling blamed or criticized," she says.
2Talk To Them During Their Best Time Of Day
Choose to have an important conversation with your partner during the time of day they're most alert. "Some of us are morning people, and some of us know that our brains shut down completely in the evenings," says Clark. "Use what you know about your partner to find the right times to have conversations. If your partner is barely conscious in the mornings, then don’t expect them to listen to you. If they are worn out after work, then don’t plan an important talk as soon as they get home."
3Plan A Set Time To Have Hard Conversations
Keep a designated time for you and your partner to talk through issues that may arise. "It can be really helpful in relationships to schedule time to talk," says Clark. "Couples who have been together a long time often do much better at communicating if they have a planned meeting. You set aside time every week to talk about the day-to-day stuff, separate times for relationship conversations, times for conversations on particular topics, and so on. Schedule it during a time that works for you both, and then stick to the plan."
4Ask More Questions
Rather than lecturing your partner or just listing your grievances on and on, ask more questions. "If you are just going on a diatribe or monologue, your partner will tune out," psychologist and relationship counselor Dr. Paulette Sherman tells Bustle. "If you ask questions, it invites them into the conversation. They need to check in with their feelings and assess what you are saying to answer you."
5Keep It Short
Think about what you want to say before you say it, and figure out the most clear and concise way to present it. "People tune out when they are bored and think nothing new is coming," says Sherman. "Your best bet is to be concise, make your point and ask for what you need in under ten minutes, if possible."
6Use The Right Body Language
The subtleties of how you communicate matter just as much as the words you are saying. "Make eye contact, and touch your partner’s arm or leg to let them know you’re 'with' them," couples therapist Tracy K. Ross, LCSW tells Bustle. Let your partner know you're listening to them when they speak, and this way they'll be more inclined to listen to you as well.
7Avoid Looking For A Solution
It might sound counterintuitive, but don't make your immediate priority trying to solve the problem — and make this clear to your partner. Allow them to be curious and ask questions to further understand. "View this as processing and working it out — venting, not complaining," says Dyer. "Remind yourself that this is just the first conversation about 'X'. If it comes up again, then approach it from the standpoint of 'Would you like some advice?' vs. jumping in and saying, 'This is what you need to do.'"
You can't force your partner to absorb everything you're saying, but use these tricks, and you might find that your partner more naturally begins to listen and better understand you.