Marriage counselors hear one complaint far more than any other. "We don't communicate." While this can have many meanings, the couple typically agree that they have lost a connection they once had. They are not longer comfortable sharing their views, feelings and desires, Where they once shared their inner self, they describe only more superficial sharing. Where they once felt accepted for what they shared, they now fear judgement or sparking an argument. It is simply easier to avoid deeper conversations.
So what changed? Instead of sharing, conversations shift to making a point or asking your partner to change. When this occurs, it triggers the listener to go on the defensive. He or she stops listening and starts to formulate a counter statement. If your partner is defending him or herself, you are not being heard. Raising your voice doesn't help because volume isn't the problem.
The best way to be heard is to listen for your partner's message. If you are getting a message that he or she is becoming defensive, assume a stance of trying to understand what triggered this response. Often men hear criticism when the woman is trying to communicate a desire to be closer. The man only hears that he is falling short. Attempt to clarify that you are not placing blame but looking for improvement in the relationship.
If you assume a listening stance, you will often be amazed at what you can learn about the inaccurate message your partner has received, often over many years. Marriage counseling is often helpful simply by helping couples to clarify their messages through listening in a structured way. That structure is actually quite simple - clarifying what you hear rather than immediately responding to what you hear.
Try this exercise. One partner makes a statement they believe to be true about the relationship. The other partner then is to make statements such as "Do you mean...?" The objective is to receive three "yeses" before you reverse roles. Make this playful; avoid being aggressive. Take turns and notice how you find the conversation turning more intimate and warm.