Many of us believe we know our partners better than they know themselves. And in some ways that is true. We can predict how someone we know well might behave in the familiar routines of life.
The mistake is when we assume that behaviour = thinking. When it comes to our partners we often get it wrong.
This is partly because we simply stop talking. Properly. We assume we understand their motivations, assume they understand ours.
We don’t. They don’t.
The longer you’re with someone, the longer you gather intel on them: how they act in certain situations, how their actions affect you- and then heap meaning onto those experiences. The problem with that approach is the meaning you heap doesn’t always align with your partner’s intentions.
One of the most common struggles highlighted in the therapy room is the failure to truly listen to what your partner is actually saying (without defensiveness, judgement, or ‘fixing’).
I regularly ask ‘what did you just hear them saying?’ and the response can emerge as something totally recreated in the listeners head. The listener is captured by history, a reluctance to accept the words, or hear them as intended and hoped by the speaker, even for a moment.
We are so caught up in the story of our partner we forget the story isn’t fixed in stone and it isn’t being written in our own head. A person is not a single storyline.
We are all multi-storied and continue to grow, change and re-author through experiences. We influence one another on a daily basis. And it pays to be curious about your partner’s story. What did they really mean when they said…?
Not curious in a ‘I’m going to pick your story to pieces because it doesn’t fit with the idea of who I think you are or who I am or my story of who we are together’ way.
But curious in a ‘I’m going to try and listen to you with an open mind and heart, I’m going to ask questions ONLY for the purpose of understanding you further, and I’m willing to be vulnerable with you too’.
What lies underneath the inability to hear someone else’s story is often our two frenemies: Insecurity and Fear. Those two can be dangerous bedfellows because they will tell us lies in order to ‘protect’ us. Throw in some anger, resentment, misunderstanding and pride and you have yourself a winning formula to close off listening.
(Ironically, if you ARE in a bad relationship situation, being able to hear and see how someone truly is, and decide what is good for you from a place of loving-kindness, is the best protection).
Try and notice your own meaning-heaping in interactions with your partner. Are you deciding something about them without listening? Are you interrogating rather than being gently curious?
‘Do I really know my partner?’ doesn’t have to be a terrifying question.
Finding your way back to someone isn’t about living in nostalgia for when you first met. It’s in the curiosity you had about them, in the not-knowing, the purity of listening, at the beginning.
Invite the curiosity back. Listen.
You just might learn something about someone you thought you knew everything about.
What do you think? Drop a comment below on your experiences of listening. If you’d like more posts like this, jump on my list here. If you’re looking for some couples counselling online you can easily inquire with a few types on the keyboard here. Filed under partner listening activities.
Photo by Justin Follis on Unsplash.