Friday, December 7, 2012

Give Your Partner Your E.A.R

One of our greatest emotional needs is to be and/or feel heard.   And not only is feeling heard an emotional need, but being/feeling heard is one the key ingredients to a loving, lasting relationship. Why? Because feeling heard speaks to our need to feel valued, respected, accepted and worthy.  Being and feeling heard reminds us that we are cared for, considered, appreciated, and most of all, loved.  So how do you make sure that you hear your partner? First, you give her your undivided attention and then you give her your E.A.R.

The first step in making sure your partner feels heard, giving her your E.A.R., is to practice EMPATHY. Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in your partner’s shoes and the ability to see the world through her eyes. It is the ability to put your judgments, perspectives, interpretations and feelings aside in order to emotionally and spiritually connect with her. Empathy is often times confused with sympathy. Both words imply feelings, but the words are very different, especially when it comes to our love relationships. Sympathy means that I feel for you.  It is like telling your partner, “I don’t really understand your problem/issue and I don’t actually appreciate its impact on you but, but I am sorry for your experience”.   But, empathy is different. Instead of saying I feel for you, empathy says I feel with you. Empathy says I understand the situation/event/problem and I understand the emotions that the situation/event/problem is causing you.  It is a way of validating your partner’s feelings and experiences. Believe me, practicing empathy takes work. Empathy requires that you are intentional and emotionally present when communicating with your partner. It is an active process and it requires your participation, patience and big doses of love.
Relationship experts agree that empathy is the oil that keeps relationships running smoothly. It is the bridge that keeps you connected with your partner. It is practice that determines the depth of your intimacy.  But even though being empathetic is so helpful and healing in our relationships, many of us struggle to regularly practice it with our love ones.  Why do we struggle? Because many of us have not been taught how to be empathetic.  Some of us have never seen it modeled. And the ones of us that have seen empathy modeled often confuse being empathetic with agreeing, accepting or approving what someone is saying or feeling.  But being empathetic does not mean that you agree, accept or approve of everything that your partner is saying. It does not mean that you are endorsing and supporting her position or perspective. But it does mean that you are supporting her and that you are not discounting her or her feelings. It simply means that you appreciate what she is saying or seeing, and that you understand that she has feelings about it.

So what is a good empathy formula to use with your partner?  There are many, but here is an effective empathy formula/rule that has worked for many of the couples that I have had the honor to work with.  The rule/formula goes like this - content (situation, experience, event) + feelings = empathy and being understood.  And, remember being understood does not occur until your partner feels or says that she has been understood. Also try to refrain from the following statements. They may make your partner feel invalidated and minimized.
  •         That’s not true                         
  •        No, you don’t feel that way or you shouldn’t feel that way
  •         That’s crazy
  •         It cannot be that bad or it cannot be that hard
  •     There’s nothing to be concerned about
  •         You are overreacting
  •        That’s all or Really?
The second practice of giving your partner your E.A.R is to ASK questions.   Simple thing to do right? Maybe or maybe not.  Asking questions should be easy to do, but in my experience as a relationship counselor, couples do not consistently ask questions. Or, if they ask questions, they fail to ask the right questions that identify issues, uncover core needs, or expose hidden desires. Unfortunately, some partners even assume that they know what the other is thinking. They think that they know what the other is going to do, say and feel.  They assume! And we all know what the other meaning of assume is, ass-u-me. Asking questions is critical to learning your partner. And the longer you are with your partner, the more intentional you have to be to ask questions. Why? Because people are constantly changing, growing and evolving; they are not stagnant. Her core values and her core identify may not change, but her perspectives and perceptions may change. Her feelings may change. Remember that we are all under-construction, and we are all hopefully maturing and growing. So first show empathy, and then ask questions. And if you want to add a cherry on top, provide assurance too.

Let’s consider this scenario.
Partner 1: I am so tired. You never help me. Partner 2: Baby, I am so sorry that you are tired, but most of all, I am sorry that you feel that I don’t help you. I don’t want you to feel that way. What am I not doing? Or How can I provide support?  OR How can I be more helpful? 
Then add some assurance: I love you! Or I want you to always know that I am here for you.
By showing empathy, asking questions and by confirming your love, you can turn a debate into a discussion, a confrontation into a conversation and fear into faith. Believe me, the formula works and your partner will feel heard and also loved.

The third practice of giving your partner your E.A.R. is to RESPOND. This is tricky because responding the wrong way can negate all of your initial hard work. Depending on your partner and depending on the situation, she may just need you to listen. Or, she may want you to take action.  But whatever you do, ask enough questions so that you understand how you need to show up so that she feels loved and supported. And by all means, be aware of common “communications stoppers”.  Communication stoppers such as giving unsolicited advice, explaining your perspective, getting defensive, blaming, shaming, criticizing, overacting, judging, shutting down or trying immediately to make her feelings go away. And most of all, don’t respond with something about you. For example, it is not helpful to say something like “”oh, I know just how you feel. The other day that happened to me…..” Remember, this is about your partner, not you. Anything that you can do to keep the conversation flowing and open gives you an opportunity to learn more and connect better with your partner. And better connection usually results in deeper intimacy, IN-2-Me-C.

After E.A.R., it is solution, resolution or action time. It may be time to compromise or negotiate with your partner. The advantage is that through E.A.R., you know the issues and her emotions. You have the information you need to help you navigate the exchange with more success, more patience, greater insight and more love.  Just think about it. E.A.R. is similar to crafting a plan and strategy. When you know all of the variables, you generally have greater success.  The E.A.R. approach sets you up for productive conversations, and consequently, relationship success.

Remember hearing is ability, but listening is a skill. It is skill that all of us could use a little more practice. So practice on your friends and family to sharpen your listening, your E.A.R, skills so when your partner needs you to listen, you are able to make her feel heard. Keep in mind that healthy marriages and relationships don’t just happen, they are CREATED. They are created by you and me. So if you want to CREATE a relationship that brings fulfillment and satisfaction to your life, listen and give your partner your E.A.R.  She deserves it and so do you!

We look forward to sharing more relationship tips in February. Remember that early registration ends next week. Imani Evans and I hope to see you there!

Create Love, Co-Founder
(Book: I Can Depend On Me)

Be sure to nurture YOUR LOVE at the Create Love! Conference on February 16th...More info

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