So Valentine’s Day soon approaches. The day most feared and hated by all men.
And you know you are screwed.
If you forget, you are screwed.
If you get the wrong thing (because you haven’t been listening – when do you ever listen?), you are screwed.
If you choose to get nothing, you are screwed.
If you get too cheesy of a card, you are screwed
If you buy too much, you are screwed.
If you buy too little, you are screwed.
If you wait until the last minute to make a dinner reservation, you are screwed (and laughed at by the restaurant).
You, my friend, are screwed.
But I am here to help. Sure, you can get your loved one the most wonderful gift, whisk her away to a fabulous holiday destination, respond to her every whim, and wait on her hand and foot. But none of that provides you with a get-out-of-jail-free card, if you are a dick the day after Valentine’s day.
So I am going to offer you the best gift of all to give your female partner – how to listen effectively. That is a gift that keeps giving.
Imagine this. Your wife, girlfriend, female-person-of-interest, or whatever approaches you and says:
“I was thinking about what you said yesterday when I was complaining about my coworker. You where a bit dismissive about my issue and you seemed bored and it appeared as if you didn’t care. At first I was a little annoyed with that and then, the more I thought about it, I became very sad. I thought if you can’t even listen to what I am saying then I am not sure that this relationship can work or at least provide me with the emotional support I need.”
Yikes! How do you respond to that?
1. [Anger]. That’s not fair. I listen to you all the time even when it is the same issue over and over again. I have tried to give you advice but you never listen. If you would just take my advice, your problem with her would be over.
2. [Apology with Misdirection]. I’m sorry. I thought I was listening really hard. But if you were feeling that way, you should have told me then not a day later. You always do that. It drives me crazy!
3. [Apology with Defense]. I’m sorry but that’s not fair. I work hard all day and try to do the best I can but you are never happy. Well, I’m not happy either.
4. [Apology with Fear]. I’m sorry. Please don’t leave me!
Now, most of these are pretty common reactions and none of these really work. That is they do not work if you wish to increase your intimacy with your partner and demonstrate that you are, in fact, trying to listen.
Here is the trick. Don’t focus on the content. Focus on the emotion. That is, her emotion and not your emotion.
Let me break it down for you. This is what was said to you:
1. I was complaining about my coworker.
2. You were dismissive and bored and it looked like you did not care.
3. First I was annoyed but then I became sad.
4. I need emotional support from you and I am wondering whether or not you can do that.
Now, you could focus on your emotional state at the time and say that you were not bored or dismissive and that you do care. That may be true but it misses her emotion. Her emotion is that she was initially annoyed and then became sad.
That is where you want to focus.
“That must been difficult to feel that sad and to start worrying about our relationship.”
By saying this, you avoid coming across as defensive, angry, or wimpy, you are not focusing solely on your emotion, and you go directly to how she was (and is) feeling.
Now, if you have time available, you say: “Let me get you a coffee/tea/glass of wine and we can talk.”
If you don’t have time available, you say: “This is important to me and I want to talk further about it tonight (or tomorrow or on the weekend or whenever).”
Now you are not out of the woods just yet, you still have to do the talk. Or, more specifically, you have to do the listen.
But by focusing on her emotion and not yours and by acknowledging the presence of her negative and sad emotions within the relationship, you help her feel less alone and more connected to you.
And that was the whole reason why she brought up this issue in the first place.
(You don’t need to understand what less or more connected actually means because no guy understands that. Just do what I say.)
The important thing here is by listening and focusing on how she is feeling, you cancel the original issue that was brought up – that you are not listening to her and not being supportive.