Effective couples communication is a means to a particular end: Communication leads to greater emotional closeness (emotional intimacy). Too many men fail to realize that for their spouse/partner, in many situations, this is the only goal of communication, not problem-solving or advice about what to do in a particular circumstance (if you feel the need to give your partner specific advice, instead of automatically assuming that is what your partner needs, it’s always a safe bet to ask).
“My wife Lynn tells me all the time that I don’t communicate enough with her. When she talks about her frustrations about work or a friend, I zone out because I don’t know what to do. I guess I feel helpless. I’ve heard these things before and I can’t fix them, so why keep talking about them?” ~Lynn’s husband Mike
Clearly, Mike realizes he cannot fix his wife’s problems with her coworkers. So rather then listen to her complaints and hearing about her frustrations, he disconnects (“zones out”) as a way of avoiding feeling emotionally impotent as a husband. But the real problem is that Mike is focusing on an end-goal that is totally at odds with Lynn’s goal.
Relationship Help: The Communication-Connection Link
“I just feel so alone whenever Mike stops listening or jumps into telling me what to do. In all honesty, all I want him to do is shut up, pay attention and listen. Why doesn’t he get that?” ~Lynn (discussing what she needs from a communication standpoint)
Mike needed information about his wife’s need, in particular the fact that effective communication isn’t about him doing something to alleviate her troubles, but rather, to empathically and attentively listen so she feels an emotional connection to him.
Here is the message to Mike and the men who have trouble listening to their wives/partners:
It may not feel like it, but attentively listening (without moving into fix-it mode) is doing something. Effective listening feeds emotional intimacy, creating a communication bridge between you both. This is why people feel better when they share their thoughts and feelings with a loved one: Connection follows communication!
So the communication mantra for all of us should be: Communication = Connection.
And this occurs through the process of attentive listening. Realizing this as the ultimate goal can help more men stay emotionally present while they start to feel helpless and frustrated by what is being communicated.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro
(Featured [top] image “Woman whispering into her boyfriends ear” by Stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)