Doctor Love: You’re Listening, But Are You Hearing Your Partner?

One of the biggest obstacles preventing a relationship from achieving its full vibrational frequency of joy and connectedness is communication issues. No matter how similar two partners may be, they may differ greatly in terms of communication styles. Additionally, communication styles can shift during a relationship. Learning (or re-learning) how to communicate with your significant other can reignite the spark of love and take a relationship to greater heights and deeper fulfillment.


The Differences in the Queer Community

When it comes to discussions surrounding communication, it’s vital to touch on the topic of gender and sexuality. The way a heterosexual couple communicates won’t necessarily mirror the way a same-sex couple communicates. This is because, despite the relatively recent dramatic shift in ideas and opinions regarding gender and sexuality, many of us were (either consciously or unconsciously) taught communication skills intended to allow us to navigate a gender binary world.

Essentially, we learned that men and women communicate differently. Psych Central notes that cisgender men often learn to converse with a clear intention while cisgender women are usually taught to infuse their side of the conversation with emotion. Men also commonly stick to just the facts without offering many “unnecessary” details while women tend to take a more exploratory approach to their conversations.

Because listening is part of communication, Psych Central also touches on how men and women listen differently. Women communicate to increase intimacy, and to that end, they often listen with the intention of soothing rather than offering a solution. On the other hand, most men filter conversations down to the information needed to create a solution or offer words of wisdom.

The above includes sweeping generalizations that don’t necessarily account for queer people (or mental health disabilities and disorders). That said, most of us can at least identify with the above communication styles. Once you realize where you and your partner are individually positioned on the communication spectrum, you have a starting point for improving communication within your relationship. Listening and speaking from your opposite end of the spectrum could help you connect with your partner on a deeper level.


Tips for Improving Communication

Now that you have a better idea of where you and your partner may stumble in your communication, it’s time to talk about how to bridge any gaps that the two of you may experience.

Small talk. One tip that Psychology Today recommends is engaging in small talk. Because most couples don’t often engage in deep emotional conversations every day, they have to find other ways to regularly improve and sustain their connection, making small talk an excellent choice for this goal.

When talking about what restaurant to eat at or what to do this weekend, try to take a genuine interest in what your partner communicates. Look for opportunities to gauge your partner’s current emotional state and share what you feel at the moment, as well. Termed “detailed inquiry” by American psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan, this approach aims to uncover more about who a person is at her or his core.

Active hearing. Another way to strengthen communication in your relationship is to listen with intention. Diving deeper, you want to let your partner know that you aren’t just listening, but hearing, as well, which are two very different things. Non-verbal communication, such as occasionally nodding your head while your partner speaks, is undoubtedly vital, but so is indicating that you understand what your partner communicates. If your partner brings up a funny or touching anecdote, smile to show that you understand what’s being said. If your partner talks about having a bad day at work or a problem, you can take his/her/their hand. Because there may be times when you truly don’t understand what your partner is trying to say, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification, just make sure you ask for permission before interrupting.

Balance listening and speaking. One area where you may fall short in your relationship is balancing how much you talk with how much you listen. If you aren’t much of a talker, look for opportunities to open up with your partner and let him/her/them know what’s on your mind. Using the above tip about engaging in small talk is a good place to start. When you do share seemingly inconsequential details, look for opportunities to add your emotions or opinions to what you say. You never know when doing so could set the stage for an engaging conversation with your partner.

On the other hand, you may talk more than you listen. If you do, work on learning how to rephrase what your partner says to you, a technique that therapists call “reflecting.” Through rephrasing, you “translate” what your partner says in terms that you’re more familiar with, which better ensures there’s no unintentional miscommunication. Another way to listen more than you speak is to look for opportunities to include your partner in what you’re saying. No matter if you struggle with listening or talking, verbally communicate to your partner your desire to be better at either. Doing so shows you’re invested in your partner and your relationship.

Even if things are going well in your relationship, it doesn’t hurt to sharpen your communication skills. Never underestimate how staying tuned in to your partner can kindle your relationship and keep the heart fires burning.