A really important part of a successful relationship is effective communication. Although we begin learning how to communicate with those who are around about us and will support us and meet our needs from a very young age, many of us are not truly effective at communication. Communication is a two way thing which involves listening as well as talking, therefore it is important that you are able to receive information as well as to send it. For lots of us, we tend to practice one much more than the other.
Some people find talking about themselves and their feelings really difficult, especially where it is a topic that they find challenging. To speak proficiently about a topic you are knowledgeable and confident in, is much easier than when you feel a little vague about exactly what it is you want to say. Within D/s there is a big emphasis on being open and honest about how you are feeling, and so for some this can make it easier. Knowing that you have a forum to have your voice heard and a receptive audience makes things a lot more manageable and I think from speaking to other couples in the lifestyle, that often they have found they have got better at saying what they need.
So this can help with the talking part but what about the listening? When I stop to think about whether or not I have been listening effectively I can often find myself lacking. I think that generally people are not very good at listening. This is a pity as often, when people are struggling, that is exactly what they need. I know that the argument that we have two ears to one mouth means that we should be using our ears twice as much as our mouths, and many say that to be a really good communicator it should be 80:20 rather than 2:1.
I have had to focus on my listening skills for work and to be honest, I still talk way more than I should. I can catch myself trying to fill in those gaps and becoming a ‘fixer’ before the time is right for that. In reality I am often dealing with young people who are telling me they don’t know what to do, but that doesn’t mean that I should leap straight in with the ideas and suggestions and I have come to see the value of taking time to really try to hear what they are saying. One of the main benefits of this is that often they don’t know what they want to say themselves, so to summarise and paraphrase means they have an increased understanding of what it is they are actually feeling.
It can feel a little false to say things like, what I am hearing is that you ……is that right? And, I think you are saying that …….. is that how you feel? However, it is interesting that sometimes they will disagree, or say that part right but add in something else. This shows how important it is as without this additional information, I might have gone off down the wrong line. Listening in this way is one of the basic principles of counselling and it so popular because it not only allows people the time and space to articulate and understand how they are feeling, but also to receive validation of that.
Human nature can make listening tricky. It can be really hard to listen without thinking about what you are going to say as a reply, but once people have begun to think about that, they have usually stopped listening to the other person and have started thinking about themselves. The issue here is that you can end up sharing your own experience of thoughts to try to illustrate your awareness of their issue, and before you know it the conversation has swung away from being focussed on them and has become focussed on you.
The other thing that is common, is to argue with someone about how they are feeling. I know people think they are being helpful but this one is a bit of a pet peeve. I feel like nobody likes me can often lead to an opinion that they shouldn’t feel like that because it isn’t true. This can be invalidating and a better response to show you have listened might be to show empathy with that feeling. There is a time and a place for challenge of course and if that is the point you have reached then it may be a valuable response, but when someone is struggling, what they often need is to be heard.
D/s has helped us with communication because the structure we have with our ‘talk-time’ means that we both feel listened to. We have to make sure that we take time out of life to do this though, otherwise the various distractions get in the way and lessen the effectiveness of what we want to achieve. We do this as regular thing and will discuss what is going well, future plans and also what isn’t working as well as it could be. Although this time is essentially positive, if there is something bigger that one of us is dealing with, this is often when it will come up.
I love having HL’s undevoted time as it leaves me feeling that he has understood me and also that my feelings are important to him. If we don’t manage to communicate in this way, then I will feel a slight distance starting to creep in between us. I need the communication in order to feel the emotional connection and closeness to him, and a huge part of that is feeling that my voice has been heard. Of course this works two ways and it is also key that I am able to listen properly to him. How can we meet each other’s needs if we don’t really know or understand what they are?
Another key part of listening is to recognise that communication is not only about what is said in words. Behaviour is communication and I believe in the value of looking at someone’s behaviour, especially when it isn’t what you might expect, and asking yourself what they are trying to say. Again, to jump to conclusions or assumptions can lead to misunderstanding, but trying to articulate what you think might be happening as a question, can help you to really understand what is going on.
I have written before about communication and how it works for us, and have also focussed on navigate bumps and get back on track, but I realised that I had not actually discussed listening itself and the value that it can have in supporting someone you care about. So often we want to know those around us can empathise with what we are feeling. We aren’t always looking for a quick fix and it can be more about feeling that we have been understood so that we can resolve the feelings and move on.
The strategies that HL and I use are not ones which are exclusive to D/s by any means, although D/s has allowed us to create a structure which works for us where clear and effective communication is a key part. When we are stuggling, knowing there is someone there who will really listen means that we feel supported. Although listening is one of the key ways that we support each other, I worried this post might be patronising. I was concerned that to write about something so simplistic would have no value, but often it is the simple things that work the best and they are the strategies that can be overlooked while our attention is focussed on more complex matters.