Our relationships grow deeper and more fulfilling when we have the ability to express ourselves and to listen more deeply to our partner. Intimacy requires us to become vulnerable to one another. For men, that sometimes seems contrary to everything they’ve learned about how to lead life. The paradox is: we actually become safer when we disarm and open ourselves to our beloved, because he is more likely to disarm and open himself.
Communicating in ways that enhance intimacy requires us to try something new. Let’s try an exercise to deepen your ability to communicate with your partner. Pick a time during the week when you and your partner can both commit to being present with one another, face to face, without distractions. (Turn off the television. If the phone rings, let the answering machine pick it up.) There is no rush......
Start by relaxing for a moment. Maybe it has been a long day. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Relax. Notice what is going on inside of you. Notice sensations. What are you feeling? Remember that many emotions are a combination of one or more of sad, mad, glad and scared. Are you feeling sad about anything? Angry? Excited, eager or happy? Anxious or scared?
Open your eyes. Decide which of you will share first. The partner who goes first has 5 minutes to talk about what he is feeling without interruption. The listening partner does just one thing – listen. (Don’t confuse listening with eagerly waiting your turn to speak! Give this man your undivided attention.) If you are listening and you are not sure of what your partner is saying, ask him if he could please clarify a bit. Do not give interpretations of what he seems to be feeling, or why he might be feeling something. Just listen.
At the end of 5 minutes, the partner who has listened tells the speaking partner what he heard him speak about his feelings. Again, don’t interpret; the goal is just to make certain that you heard him correctly. The goal is to restate you partner’s feelings without just parroting them back to him. The speaking partner may respond, “Yes, that’s what I was feeling all right.” Or he may respond with “No, I was actually feeling more…” If he restates the feelings, the listening partner will again tell him what he heard. This goes on until the partner who has spoken is satisfied that he’s been heard accurately. Then switch the listening and speaking roles so that the other partner has 5 minutes to speak about his feelings.
This can feel a bit awkward at first, like learning new dance steps. Notice if there are places you get stuck. When you were speaking, did you tell your partner the truth about what you were feeling? If you held something back, why do you think you might have done that? If you had trouble as the listener identifying your partner’s feelings, was it that he wasn’t being clear, or did you find yourself getting distracted by the “internal conversation” inside your own head or heart? Did you find yourself getting defensive and wanting to argue instead of simply listen?
Doing this every week for three months will pay you big dividends in learning more about expressing yourself and listening to the other. You’ll find yourself drawing closer to your partner. Good for you!
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org