Jenny didn’t hear her voice getting louder the way Mark did. He never raised his voice and went from annoyed to stony in a matter of minutes when Jenny’s requests got loud. She had grown up in a house where people yelled all the time. At good moments between them, they laughed at what a cruel trick their marriage was- they couldn’t have been any more different… But more often their arguments took more of their attention.
In truth they had never really understood how to talk to each other. They shared a simmering attraction and deep tenderness for each other but their communication was usually a mess. Jenny would ask Mark to do things with her around the house and invite him to do special things like drive to the beach. She was convinced she was clear, but it seemed like almost every plan she envisioned with him went a different way. He would show up late with the paint and with the wrong color or invite his best friend to come to the beach with them. Mark usually had no idea that Jenny was frustrated. He thought she was just moody.
Each time she communicated the edge between them seemed to grow in her mind. Even small requests like taking out the garbage or picking up dinner started with an elevated tone that Jenny didn’t even hear and that sent Mark further away from her.
Mark’s retreat only confirmed for Jenny that he never listened to her or even cared about what she said. For his part, Mark just was trying to stay out of the line of fire, as it seemed to him, he couldn’t do anything right.
One evening, Jenny broke down in the kitchen after a particularly painful argument.
She felt terrible about the mean things she had said to Mark, but she wanted to hurt him the way she felt hurt and abandoned. She sat crying with her head in her hands. Mark sat down next to her. Neither one spoke. The silence between them softened and Mark put his hand on her leg.
Jenny looked up and saw him holding her in his gaze with no malice. He said, “I am not trying to hurt you, really. I guess I don’t know how to listen to you.” Jenny cried harder and leaned into Mark’s chest.
“I didn’t know how to tell you how much I wanted you to hear me.” She said.
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Consider a communication story that is challenging in your own life. What are you trying to say that isn’t being heard? Do you know what your partner needs to feel heard? Replay the last frustrating conversation in your mind and imagine if you had inserted this question into the conversation. Would it have changed the direction of the conversation?
Listening Practice: Next time you find yourself boiling with something you need to express, try to stop and listen inside. What needs to be heard? Give yourself 5- 10 minutes of quiet to see what comes to the top of all the words waiting to spill out of you.
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When we come to the important conversations in our life with the will to listen inside and to those we love, it turns our ability to communicate inside out. We get to the heart of what communication has to offer- a feeling of deep connection and of being seen for who we are. Cultivating the silence that allows your partnership to unfold before your eyes makes all the day to day logistical communicating a simpler practice because it isn’t burdened with the invisible weight of being heard.