“They don’t listen to me.” This is one of the most common complaints of some of my couple clients. The good news is there is a way to overcome this struggle.
One of the best strategies for learning to listen well in our marriage has come from Dr. John Gottman. He refers to the practice as ATTUNEMENT. The process is not rocket science, but its impact is powerful. Just as it takes a few regular adjustments to tune your favorite radio station in while on a car ride, listening well involves more than just not talking. There is a focusing or tuning of self that is required to engage the type of listening that one needs from their partner.
Attunement requires some focus and attention. No, it doesn’t mean that our partner is always right, but it does mean that you make a decision that more important than dueling over who is right it is more important that you are living in right relationship with one another. Your goal is Oneness. Attuning is a skill and requires practice. However, the more you practice it, the better you become. The key is to keep practicing. Make it a habit. You can start practicing this today.
Here are the steps to follow Gottman’s strategy:
A-TT-U-N-E in Your Relationship
(A) ATTEND to the needs of your partner. When you provide focused attention to them, it also feels like affection. Remember, to your partner attention is affection.
(TT) TURN TOWARDS your partner. Most women desire face-to-face interactions. Most men, on the other hand, tend to focus more on side-by-side relationships, such as playing golf or going fishing together with a friend. The result of such cultural grooming is that most men do not have a close male friend. Men struggle to break beyond having mere acquaintances, beyond only competing as buddies on a battlefield or golf course. So, husband, listening the way your wife needs you to listen is going to be something different than just another few minutes of golf. She needs you to turn towards her physically and emotionally.
(U) UNDERSTAND – It is important to ask questions about how or what your partner is feeling. Remember, as the Prayer of St. Francis, to seek to “understand”, not just be “understood.” That will require some time and consideration of not only what your partner thinks, but thinking more about how he or she must feel. This kind of attention is almost irresistible to them. While you may think of it merely as “extra effort” or “work” to listen so hard, your partner feels it as love, true love.
(N) NONDEFENSIVELY LISTEN – Remember to respond, don’t react, to what you hear. Even if they are upset, hear them clearly and hear them through. Listen and respond. If their words tap a frustration or negative emotion in you, don’t let it co-opt your equilibrium. Breathe and calm yourself down if you feel the urge to react or overreact to what you hear.
(E) EMPATHIZE – When you listen long enough that what you hear from your partner goes beyond a simple auditory processing and turns into an emotional understanding, then your 3rd Ear is fully engaged. That’s what they are looking for from you and sometimes desperately needs. You become the person who will listen to hear as will no one else, their friend and her partner in those moments becomes their soulmate.
Gottman says that “Neurologists have found that the emotional part of the brain calms down as soon as it feels connected to another person and not alone.” Remember, the most important thing in these moments is not who is right or who is wrong, but more so about the two of you being in Oneness as a couple.
A-TT-U-N-E is such a great tool for a relationship that we recommend memorizing it and using it often. Tuning in to each other’s concerns and needs is important in a relationship; it is a practice and a lifestyle. Give it a try the next time you talk! It is one way to strengthen your relationship and create more closeness.
Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas. Carlene works with individuals, couples, and families. She can help you work through conflict and create more closeness in your relationship. To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.