It is very important to learn how to communicate your feedback, feelings or needs to your partner in an effective way that maximizes you being heard (coming soon in a future post). This post, however, focuses on the art of listening and receiving feedback. The following suggestions can help you manage feedback to deepen connection, engage in self-growth and cultivate authentic communication with your partner.
We all want to foster a loving relationship with our intimate partner in which there is a collective feeling of being valued, heard and understood. However, even with the best of intentions and desires, we sometimes fall out of sync with our partner. We may be listening to his or her words, but not really hearing them. Or, maybe we feel upset, angry or criticized and feel compelled to shut down or counter attack, which creates a cycle of discord and pushes us further away from the goal of fostering a loving, open relationship.
One of the most essential skills to ensure a successful, loving relationship is the ability to openly and non-defensively hear what your partner is saying to you. This is especially important—although often not easy— if it’s about you and is somewhat critical or even hurtful. While it can be challenging, this essential communication skill facilitates openhearted listening. It is the art of validation that honors the right of your partner to articulate (granted not in a hostile or demeaning manner) whatever he or she is feeling or perceiving about you because it is his or her actual experience. It is not necessary to agree with your partner. But, it is important to allow your partner the space and opportunity to express his or her present reality.
This can be a tricky skill to cultivate. Often, we tend to immediately disagree and argue with what we’ve been presented with. And, in doing so, we create disharmony and upset. Receiving challenging feedback, even when it’s heartfelt, can be hard. But, maybe what your partner is saying about you is true, and it’s possible that you resist certain feedback because you are judging and condemning yourself for acting the way you did or for having an undesirable trait or characteristic that was pointed out.
This is where you can grow personally and deepen your relationship with your partner. If you can view your shortcomings with compassion and understanding and accept a personal imperfection (we all have them!), you won’t need to oppose it being pointed out. This self-compassion and acceptance allows for more trouble-free conversation. It also creates the space for your partner to feel comfortable being open, honest and vulnerable with you.
On the flipside, maybe you can’t find the truth in what your partner is saying and you strongly disagree. Although you might validate your partner’s position—expressing that you hear what he or she is saying— you still feel hurt, criticized or misunderstood. In times such as these, the personal work is to stay open and in contact with your partner without striking back aggressively or shutting down and withdrawing punitively. Try allowing the hurt or defensive feelings to simply be experienced bodily, feeling the tightness or tenseness just as they are without any desire to change them or get rid of them. Doing so can prevent the arising and proliferation of thoughts of victimization or a desire to retaliate or defend yourself in some way. Rather than entertain thoughts, such as, “How could she do this to me?, I don’t deserve this, or I’ll show him,” you can allow the thoughts and tension to arise without judgment and let them go. If these thoughts, which spiritual author Jeff Foster explains as coming through “hurt person,” still intrusively arise, is it possible for them to be seen simply as momentary beliefs and not definitive truths about you or your partner. Sill, if it’s not energetically possible for you to let go of your thoughts and they give rise to impulses to counterattack, try to just feel the energetic charge of that urge purely somatically without trying to reject it or judge it. Just allow the urge to be there and feel it exactly as it is without any expectation.
If any of these steps can be implemented, the cycle from feedback/insult to retaliation can be interrupted, and the intensity of the need to defend or attack can be significantly diminished or disappear entirely. You can then respond rather than react to your partner’s statements. Communication can continue in an open and affable fashion that can lead to deeper understanding and connection.