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How Can I Mend My Relationship? Why hearing is not the same as listening

How can I mend my relationship
I asked Adrian Blake my friend and co-author of our book “I Just Want to be Happy” to share some of his wisdom from his years of experience in counselling couples.

Communication is the golden key to a better relationship. Communication is as much about listening as talking.

And remember, hearing is not the same as listening.

Children with attention deficit disorder, for example, may have very good hearing but their listening capabilities are poor.

They find it difficult to attend to what is really being said, and subsequently communication and relationships are difficult.

Here is an example of an exchange between a couple who are hearing but not listening:

Karen: The house is a mess. Why don’t you ever clean up?
Jamie: You can talk, you left it in a state this morning. There was loads of washing up in the sink. Anyway, what do you think I’ve been doing all day? I have my own work to do.
Karen: That’s not the point. You have more time than I do. It only takes a few minutes just to do a bit to help. You never do anything. It’s typical.
Jamie: I don’t do anything to help? If it wasn’t for me we wouldn’t even be able to live here. Who do you think pays most of the bills?
Karen: The bills! For heaven’s sake don’t talk to me about bills…

Here we see an argument rapidly starting to escalate. In the end, when the shouting stage is reached, one or the other will depart the scene, possibly slamming a door.

There is no conclusion, no resolution to the issue. Instead there is an open wound. Nothing is healed. Neither is really listening to the other because each is too busy thinking what they are going to say in reply.

Both are intent on defending their position at all costs, and launching counter-attacks. It starts off as a skirmish and escalates into warfare.

So how can they get a better result? Let’s replay it, but differently:

Karen: The house is a mess. Why don’t you ever clean up?

Notice how Karen feels angry and is taking one example – ‘the house in a mess’ – and accusing Jamie of not ever cleaning up. Karen wants to be heard but suspects that won’t happen, so is making as big an impact as possible to try to force Jamie to really listen.

Karen wants her feelings acknowledged, to be valued.

Importantly, this does not mean Jamie has to agree Karen is right. But for there to be progress, it does mean that Karen must feel listened to.

Jamie: (different response) It sounds like you feel really upset? Like perhaps you feel I don’t care enough about you or the house?

Here Jamie is reflecting back to Karen what he senses Karen is feeling. By doing this, Jamie is providing evidence that Karen is being listened to. Evidence carries weight. Jamie is saying in effect that he can see Karen’s feelings are real.

Jamie also takes it a stage further by responding with questions. This invites Karen to respond, so Karen gets the message that Jamie really wants to hear what she has to say.

This approach is likely to get a very different response from Karen. Compared to the “That’s not the point. You have more time than I do….” response there is likely to be a calmer, less retaliatory response.

Now that Karen feels listened to, there is less need for her to feel angry or to shout.

So K’s response might now be:

K: Well, yes, I do sometimes feel you don’t care enough about me or what I want.

(Still some anger, but less of it. Being listened to starts to defuse the anger. It starts to open things up. There is the beginning of communication).

So J might now respond:

J: Maybe it’s not just me not doing enough in the house, but it seems to you that I don’t value you enough either?

(Again J reflects back and again by using a question invites a response from K).

There are no accusations so there is no need to defend or counter-attack. We see the beginning of hope for this relationship. It will need practice and support from a third party, e.g. a counsellor, but it can be the start of something different and better.

Bear in mind, most partners do not want vengeance. They want to be heard,  listened to, to be valued, basically to love and be loved. As ex-Labour Minister Claire Short once said: “We’re all searching for love. Some of us are wise enough or lucky enough to find it”.

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Ready for next Christmas? Spend 5 minutes answering these questions for a happier 2015

Start planning for Christmas nowPhew! Well that’s Christmas over with for another year. I hope you had a good time and stayed relaxed and stress-free.

I know it seems a bit early, but this is actually a really good time to look ahead to Christmas 2015.

With this Christmas still fresh in your mind, there may be certain things that you want to do differently

Start planning your next Christmas now! Christmas break will be a long weekend in 2015, with Christmas day falling on Friday, so plan ahead for how you want to do things and spend your time.

Go to your diary and have a quick look at what time you might have off. You may need to get in early to book certain days. If you’re self-employed or your time is more your own, how would you like that time to be spent?

Start with the end in mind

How was your Christmas this year? Maybe you feel like you spent too much time with one side of the family, or you are wondering why you see so many relatives when you’d rather be with friends. Perhaps you want to make more effort to invite people over, or you want to make sure you get more thoughtful presents for people who always get left till last.

Start shopping early

If you find present buying stressful, diarise to start your shopping earlier – in November say – so that it’s not a last-minute rush. Perhaps you could start a list in the  notes section on your phone of the things you want or would like to give others as presents.

Make a note of people who you could buy certain bits and pieces for throughout the year so that you take some of the strain off, leaving you free to enjoy the festivities a bit more.

I was so impressed with how beautifully one friend had wrapped her presents this year and when I picked her brains to find out her method, I discovered she sets a theme for the year. I found out where she buys her ribbon and wrapping paper and I made a note to go there in late November 2015 and be ahead of the game!

Make it YOUR Christmas

Whatever you do, plan to make your next Christmas the kind of Christmas YOU want, not something others expect from you. If you always feel obliged to do something with the same people and want a change, start thinking now about what that might involve.

Next week we are going to look at how to set a few goals for the year. In the meantime, I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to read these posts and to wish you a fantastic 2015.

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Stresshacker Challenge: Change one thing in your relationship today

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.

What’s the definition of stupidity? Doing the same thing over and over thinking we’ll get a different result. Yet how often do we do this?

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.

Break the Pattern in your Relationship

If something happens once, well there you go, when it happens twice it could be a co-incidence, but when it happens three times? That’s a pattern. So you might want to change something. Just tweaking it a bit may well give you a more pleasing outcome. A scientist wouldn’t dream of repeating an ineffective process over and over, just to see if it works the 20th time around!

If what you’re doing isn’t working, do anything else at all!

It never ceases to amaze me how people do the same thing over and over in relationships – whether they are new dates, or long term relationships. It’s like running the same route in a maze over and over, hoping the outcome will be different. The same is true of any area of life – work, play and study.

So here’s our challenge

What one thing could you do differently today – right here now – that would make a positive shift in the way you relate to your partner, (child, mother, sister, brother, or whoever)?

We want you to try something really simple to interrupt the pattern. For example, you could change the tone of your voice when you’re next asking them for something.  If he always walks the dog, you do it. If you always meet in the same bar or restaurant, change the venue.  If one of you always pays, let the other one do it.  Try approaching your next interaction with that person from a position of wondering what you can do for them rather than what they can do for you.

Just tweak something – do it differently. Change is liberating.

Give it a go and then leave me a comment to let me know how you get on! I’d be really interested to hear the results. Did anything change?