Listening versus problem-solving in intimate relationships

Many couples who come to counselling are anxious for strategies and practical solutions to the problems that are causing conflict between them. It's understandable - they simply want things to feel better as soon as possible. In some cases, they want their partner, who they may see as the problem, to be 'fixed'!

Of course, this approach is seldom effective, and oftentimes couples have found this out themselves before seeking professional assistance.

Listening well - REALLY listening - must precede any attempt at problem-solving. Without listening carefully to each person's perspective, it's possible that the problem itself may not have been accurately defined (for example, I think my partner's problem with me is that I don't take out the rubbish often enough; however what she is really struggling with is that I'm not ever home before the kids are in bed - and when I do get home I'm too exhausted to connect with her, let alone remember I was meant to put the rubbish out).

Without taking the time to listen with a genuine desire to understand our partner's issue, rather than to judge or evaluate its merit, we also can miss an important opportunity to deepen our connection with each other and strengthen our relationship. Listening with all our attention and showing we are really interested in what our partner has to say feels like deep love and caring. Before we even get close to practical strategies for solving the problem, we've already worked on our relationship in a postive way when this is done well. (For example, because I have taken the time to really hear that my partner is not just annoyed that I forget to take out the rubbish, but that we never connect in the evenings after work, she is already starting to feel more connected to me, through her experience of the quality of my prescence with her as I listen intently. From there, we can work on ways to improve our connecting time on a week-night, AND I can make a commitment to putting 'rubbish night' in my diary!).

Next time you find yourselves gridlocked in a conflict where it seems impossible to find a solution, change gear. Make your sole purpose to listen and understand what your partner is trying to communicate to you (even if you don't agree with it). Ideally, you may make this your FIRST strategy in tackling any disagreement!

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