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  • by Jaclyn Foster, HC

The Greatest Valentine’s Day Gift

February is a month when we are reminded of romantic love. If we are in partnership, we tend to think about how we can let our partners know we love them. If we aren’t, we might be thinking about how we can go about finding and keeping that special someone.

I’ve found that in relationships, there is one thing we all can give that will increase the odds of greater connection and love in our romantic relationships. You can’t hold it in your hands or touch it, but it’s extremely valuable, unforgettable and free. Sounds too good to be true, right? It isn’t, I promise.

It’s your attention.

Giving our full attention to our partners when we are with them is an important way to show we love and care for them. In a world where we are pulled in multiple directions at once, it’s a practice to direct our attention to one thing at a time. I’m not saying you need to do this all the time, that’s not realistic. What I am asking is, could you start with 10 minutes?

Here are some ideas of ways you can improve the odds of giving full attention to your partner and having them truly feel it. Try these practices and see what happens. If you don’t have a romantic partner, these tips can work in any loving relationship, whether it be with friends or family.

Take a break from distractions. I know you probably saw this coming, but: step away from the smart phone. It might seem like it’s not a big deal to have your phone on you, but when you are distracted by it, it’s impossible to really listen to what your partner is saying, and they can feel it. Put your phone down and out of sight and connect face-to-face with no other goal than to connect with each other.

You can start with something as is simple as, “Tell me about your day…” a great follow-up question is, “Tell me more,” or “Anything else,” until your partner feels they have shared everything on their mind. When they are complete, a great way to let them know you have acknowledged them is, “Thanks for sharing.”

Practice Mirroring. So often when we share our lives, the thing we want is to feel seen and heard. As humans, we are smart and often know what we need to do, what we tend to lack is empathy and acceptance of the change process to get there. I am guilty of this all the time, my partner will share a struggle and I’ll be thinking, “Well, you should just be doing this...” or, “Man, what good is this going to do?” I’ll want to bypass the “complaint,” or the discontent to move on. But much to my dismay, trying to bypass the frustration does not reduce the frustration in the end, it increases it. Can you relate?

I recognize my own need to share and feel heard and when I’m not, I feel irritated. The challenge in relationships often isn’t in finding a solution, it’s getting to the place where both partners feel fully heard and understood. I’ve learned that solutions often present themselves with greater ease when everyone feels heard.

Here is how you give this a try. The next time you and your partner have a disagreement you’ve had a hundred times, ask your partner to play a game with you. If you are both upset, each partner will speak without interruption and the other will listen with their full attention. When the sharing partner is complete, the listening partner will repeat what they heard using the same words.

The listening partner can say something like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” and then following up with, “Did I get that right?” If the person sharing feels they were heard correctly, they can say” Yes, and…” and share anything else and follow the same process. Or they can say, “No, what I was saying was this…”

If, as the listening partner, you are told you got it wrong, don’t fret. This is normal and just shows how susceptible we are to different interpretations. As the listener, let go of being defensive at this time and make your sole goal to listen to and report back what you are hearing. When your partner appears to be done sharing, you can ask, “Anything else?” and let them continue until they are finished.

When they are complete, you can say, “Thank you for sharing.” And then switch partners so you can both feel heard and understood.

Notice if anything shifts in the way you relate after sharing. This will feel silly at first! And its not meant to be the new way you communicate all the time, it is meant to be used as a tool for difficult days or times of rocky communication. Something you can both ask for and give when you feel there is a misunderstanding or hurt feelings. It’s also a great tool if you notice you are feeling distance from your partner and want to reconnect.

If you enjoy the mirroring activity, there is another step you can take when connecting with your partner that increases your connection.

Speak with empathy. In addition to mirroring, take a moment to put yourself in your partners shoes and imagine how they would be feeling. For example, say our partner had a rough day at work you might say, “Wow, that sounds like it would be really tough and frustrating,” or, “I can imagine that would be hard.”

By taking a moment to connect with the emotion or feeling the person sharing might be experiencing, as we spoke about with mirroring above, this is an opportunity to feel seen and understood exactly where we are whether it be sadness, frustration, overwhelm, anger or hurt.

If you enjoy these practices, I recommend taking some time to learn more about the Imago Dialogue process which is a step-by-step tool to improve communication and resolve conflict.

Remember to have fun and be light with these practices, good communication takes time, trial and error and a commitment on both partners sides. Be patient, kind and slow down with one another in this process. All of this will feel strange and awkward at first, and that’s okay… its’s supposed to, its new!

Feel free to print out this blog to help you with prompts or to use the following link for a more complete outline of the Imago Dialogue process which is a great tool for communication, understanding and feeling heard:

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