By Tracy Henderson, LMHCA
I often hear from my male clients that their partner repeatedly tells them that they don’t know how to communicate, and they’ve reached out to me for help. My curiosity usually gets the best of me and I take the bait and ask: “Do you know how to communicate?”
As I come across many responses from my clients about their ability to communicate they do tend to vary across a wide spectrum. For instance, passive replies include, “I’m not sure?” to “I might” whereas, more aggressive rebuttals sound like, “If she would stop yelling at me and give me a minute to speak” or “she always starts crying and I can’t understand her.” While these are examples of responses I hear, they do not represent every situation. Each situation is different.
After we peel back a few layers within the relationship and uncover how communication occurs I do come across a common dynamic between both partners which, prompts me to ask, “How well do you both listen to one another?”
As a society, we are inundated every second of the day with information. We are super computers collecting,
processing, and storing data faster than we cognitively recognize. We have so much input that we can’t wait to share with others. There is a plethora of social mediums to enable us with the ability to output as much as we can, and we do. Unfortunately, what can happen is that we become so busy with inputs and outputs that we forget to slow down and listen.
In a relationship, listening is critical to building trust and demonstrating you care to know about your partner. It is a challenge for most partners in relationships to remain present and listen. Listening is a skill that takes continuous intention. For men, I commonly find listening becomes even more of a challenge when their partner is expressing sadness, crying, anger, or fear during a conversation.
When men hear sadness or crying, a desire to fix it or flee from it frequently takes over. With anger, a common response is to take it personally or react to it. While with fear, men regularly minimize it through some form of assurance such as “don’t worry about it, everything will be all right.”
To support my clients desire to communicate more effectively, I begin with listening. Especially, for my male clients who have difficulty with their partners emotions. I offer these steps as a start:
- Be present
- Focus on your partner and set aside your agenda…
- Be a witness
- Do not “be” anything. Just listen…
- Be interested
- Tune in to their world and try to see their perspective…
- Reflect back
- In your own words repeat back what you hear…
While these steps offer a start, they are not the sole remedy, there are more advanced listening strategies that can be developed to support both men and couples with their challenges to communicate.