Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Relationship Rule #2: Listen AND Talk

Whenever people have talked to me about their relationships and the problems they have, I often ask them if they have told their significant other about this problem. Most of the time, they tell me that "they wouldn't listen or care if I told them." But that seems to be the problem, they didn't give them a chance to listen or respond. It also indicates that too often, we fail to listen to our partner.

When I have worked with Urban Debate students, the new students express the same problem: frustration that no one listens. They like debate because someone is forced to listen to them, and they can talk about what matters to them in a way. The same is true of relationships. People want someone to listen to them and care about what they say.

The same happens when people get mad and get into fights. Sure, everyone has ways to express it, and people should be mad sometimes in a normal relationship, but there is a point where people have a choice: Walk out or work it out. That is really the only two choices. The failure they often make is to work it out to an unsatisfactory solution and then they revisit the problem over and over and over again.

What should you do in a relationship?

First, set clear expectations as you go. For example, my wife and I set up Rule #1 before we got married but after we were in a relationship and agreed upon it. It doesn't mean anyone will be perfect in the relationship, but it gives you some place to start in building a working framework.

Second, as problems arise, talk about them. No one ever sets perfect expectations or expectations for every area, so there is always going to be a time to go back and revisit and revise those expectations. Realize up front that relationships are always a work in progress, whereby there are "negotiated" changes in expectations and agreements all the time.

Third, as problems arise, don't forget, feelings will be hurt and people will get upset. It is okay that people get upset. Some yell, others get quiet. At some point, calmer discussions must prevail if the relationship is to continue. Don't shy away from those talks. Don't shy away from topics, the honesty in those discussions are important to making sure you two will find an acceptable solution.

Finally, find ways to show you are listening and working at listening. Buy gifts or do things that they wanted or wanted done but that they wouldn't normally expect you to notice. Bring up subjects in conversation that they might not have thought that you heard.

There are also little helpful ways to find out information. Remember, the salesperson who showed her the jewelry, and return to them to ask for the specific items she was looking at. Use text messaging or notepad on your cellphone to remember things when she isn't looking. Use things like Outlook to give you early reminders of important events like anniversaries, birthdays, or other important days.

No one says anyone has to be perfect, but most of the time what is wanted is the effort. Don't lie about using helpful tips or what you are doing, working to listen and talk better in and about your relationship. The deception would probably cause some irritation and feelings of being manipulated. Whereas, the truth about working on listening and talking to make them happy will make your significant other feel better that you care about them enough to work that hard for them.

The effort is the key. Don't be afraid to give the effort.

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