Dear Therapist…

Dear Therapist,

My partner doesn’t listen to me, or at least it doesn’t feel like she does. She is there in the room, I am talking, and I think she is hearing every word I am saying and then, a few moments later, she asks me all about what I have just told her. When I tell her I just told you all about that, she disagrees. Why doesn’t she listen to me — more importantly, why does she think she is listening to me?


Listening Muses

An all too familiar complaint in our relationships: a lack of listening! Take heart, this is common.

However, the reason someone may not be listening can vary greatly.

  • Perhaps your partner is doing something else at the same time and is not good at multitasking and, although she thinks she is listening, she is actually not wholly present to everything being communicated.
  • Perhaps although she wants to listen, she actually has something on her mind she wants to tell you about and so her mind is naturally more on her topic than yours.
  • Perhaps she is hearing you, but filtering in a way that is unique to her and so is experiencing your words and what you are communicating in a way that is about her and less about you and your experience.

It’s a very good question you pose — not only why is she not listening, but why does she think she actually is listening. And only she can answer this question.

So, this begs the next step. Sitting down and discussing the mechanics of how you communicate. This sounds almost like a business meeting of sorts and it kind of is – a meeting about the business of your communicating.

You can cover topics in this meeting, inlcuding:

  • What are the best conditions by which she can listen and hear you. Does she need quiet? Does she need to be fully focused on you and your words?
  • Does she have anything on her mind that she wants to talk to you about that she is distracted by?
  • Is something you are saying disturbing her or causing her anxiety? If so, how can she communicate this to you in the moment?

A series of questions like this can help you both better define the optimal conditions for communicating. Also, in the moment of speaking, you may want to check in with her to see what she is hearing you say so she can follow what you are saying and you can have confidence that she is with you.

Although we often think that communication is natural and easy, two people must open up in these ways to optimize the experience of not only speaking, but feeling heard by the other.

May attuned listening be the prize!