Listening at the depth of Relationship Conflict

Listening is one of the most valuable skills in our relationship toolbox that is essential to master for a successful relationship. It is fundamental to our own wellbeing to listen and be listened to and greatly enhances the quality of our relations. Listening to each other deeply can become a catalyst for positive change and growth, but yet it can be so difficult to master. The bottom-line is it requires effort!

Our primary symptom that we are not listening each other? Conflict – Argument – Breakdown

This is probably most painfully evident in our couple relationships, but is certainly not exclusive to them. At the core of conflict exists a breakdown in communication, a breakdown in connection where each person becomes unable to understand each other. Worse still we can lower our communication levels to allow ourselves hurt, shame or manipulate the other. These injure the relationship further and deepen the wounds of conflict.

When & how do we learn the value of listening?

Finding our way into relationship is often through the experience of being heard and listened to. We tend to have so much space for this in early romance. We are curious about each other, we want to know the stories, the personality, the details that have shaped this new person we have met. When we sense that someone is listening to us deeply and sincerely, we become more able to express ourselves, we relax our defenses, take down our masks and risk revealing ourselves to them. This is the deal-breaker type behaviour that is essential to notice in relationship as this is where the connection deepens and strengthens.

Our life story and internal world make so much more sense when we can speak them out and have them listened to. It gives us clarity and understanding of ourselves as well as how it contributes to the shared space of the couple relating to each other.

Perhaps when we know the experience of being listened to, we notice the absence of it even more. We can feel the break in connection, because it hurts and the breakdown of communication becomes even more apparent. Words and stony silence have the ability to wound us, make us feel ill even, and we can carry the energy of it around with us until we find a way to let it go. However, without a change in the dynamic of communication there can be no lasting conflict resolution. A peaceful truce space is needed to open up the bond again, to allow both to see and hear the other. Conflict resolution starts with setting conditions that promote good communication. This begins with listening deeply to each other.

Becoming a Partner who is a Good Listener:

1. Self-Awareness

If we want to have a partner who is a good listener, then we must be prepared to demonstrate by setting the standard for listening ourselves first. Good listening with others requires first and foremost a good listening relationship with ourselves. We need to be aware of the factors that affect our ability to hear which can include our previous experiences (especially unresolved hurts), beliefs, values, assumptions, judgements and bias. Whenever we hear something, we hear it through all these factors, which act like filters that in turn trigger our emotional reactions and defensiveness. The consequence of this is that we can be held hostage by our reaction, we feel righteous and will defend that. The result is our capacity to build meaningful relations, even with someone we love, is negatively affected. Being aware of these factors can help us to resolve within ourselves issues relating to our past experiences, our gender, nationality, culture, values, judgements so that they no longer operate as obstacles to listening deeply to the other. It is this self-awareness that helps us to understand the other’s point of view.

2. Not trying to Win the Argument

When we become competitive in conflict, it inevitably leads to increased combat and a potential escalation in hurt and insult. If we find ourselves beginning to formulate what we next want to say while the other person is still speaking, then we have stopped listening! Taking the time to really hear what the other is saying can often times be enough in and of itself to resolve a conflict.

3. Be willing to take responsibility for our words & actions

Self-awareness makes room for the honesty of acknowledging our wrongdoing during those times when we overstep the line into negative and harmful conflict. To fully understand how we have hurt the other by not listening can help us to not repeat the same behaviour. Reminding ourselves of how much we love and care for them is important, but the action of taking responsibility for how we demonstrate that is a step further into conflict resolution territory. Owning and acknowledging how we caused hurt by our words and actions brings us back into connection with the other – we feel and see it from their point of view. How about being willing to actually take back the hurt we caused so that we own it and heal it instead? To do this we can simply say to our partner: “…there were things I said and did which knowingly or unknowingly has caused you hurt. I am truly sorry and I ask for the energy of that hurt to be returned to me so that I may heal it”. This brings us into the real experience of the actual hurt we caused and brings us to the deepest level of listening.

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