Do you feel misunderstood by your partner? Seem to keep getting into repetitive arguments over the same things? Have hidden resentments toward him and a mountain of unmet needs? If you’re like a lot of other gay couples, chances are your listening skills might need a jump-start; and if it’s not that, then fine-tuning your ability to listen can go a long way toward bridging the gap between you and your lover and bringing about more clarity and connection in your relationship.
Conflict is inevitable when you’re a couple, but how you go about negotiating it can mean the difference between cuddling on the couch together or sleeping on opposite sides of the bed when you retire for the evening. Being able to productively listen and attend to your partner is key for effective communication, and listening is also a pre-requisite for conflict resolution.
As men in our society, we haven’t been trained real well in matters of emotion and communication. This can create a tenuous backdrop in a relationship with two men operating from the same conditioning. Not only can it be an obstacle to achieving true intimacy, but it can also cause partners to withdraw emotionally, avoid dealing with problems, or become competitive towards one another if not careful.
Listening is a very complex communication skill that is best taught in counseling or coaching sessions and there are literally zillions of manuals and books out there on the subject. I will try to simplify this using the Stop-Look-Listen model that is typically taught to young children with impulse-control issues. And mind you, I am not comparing us gay men to children! But this is a simple framework to operate from and I encourage you to read up on this issue in the other literature out there for more depth. Listening and communication problems are the number one reasons for conflict in relationships, both straight and gay, and this model will help you learn how to be fully present with your partner.
Step 1: STOP!
You and your partner are in the midst of a disagreement; you’re both upset, tempers are beginning to flare, and the verbal lashings are about to begin… STOP! Remember that nothing of any positive consequence can come from an interaction where two people are angry and defensive. You’re not properly attending to the issues because you’re too busy trying to convince your man that you’re right! The first step to productive listening is to defuse any potential conflicts by each of you setting the tone for positive communication and approaching each other with conscious intent for trying to understand each other and define the problem. You may need to take a “Time-Out” before proceeding with your talk to help calm yourself down and get centered. Refer to the article “Calming the Storm In Your Relationship” from the second issue of The Gay Love Coach Newsletter here for how to properly conduct a Time-Out and other anger management strategies.
Step 2: LOOK!
So now you’ve come back together again after your cool-down period all relaxed and ready to be attentive. Great! You and your lover should go to a place free from distractions so nothing will disturb you and face each other, as you are now each going to take turns expressing your thoughts and feelings about your issue at-hand.
One of you will be the speaker and the other will be the listener. No interrupting, Listener! Speaker gets center stage right now—you’ll have your chance later! Speaker should have 3-5 minutes to share his perspective to keep the conversation concise and focused, and this also avoid the monopolizing of “airtime”; typically one partner can be more verbal than the other and this allows equal sharing-time.
[ continued tomorrow ]
© Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach
The suggestions and feedback offered in this column are but one perspective of multiple approaches to dealing with problems or challenges. Information provided in articles and advice columns should not be used as a substitute for coaching or therapy when these services are needed. None of this information should be your only source when making important life decisions. This information should not be used for diagnosing or treating a particular problem, nor should it take the place of a consultation with a trained professional. It is your responsibility to consult a professional prior to making any life decisions.
Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, contributing author to GAYTWOGETHER, is one of the leading love coaches for the gay community. As a licensed dating and relationship coach, Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, DHS, MSW has over 18 years experience as a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in helping GLBT individuals and couples develop and maintain successful and fulfilling intimate relationships. He holds a doctorate degree in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Western Michigan University. He also runs a successful private therapy practice, Personal Victory Counseling, Inc. http://thegaylovecoach.com