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What Does it Mean to “Be Heard”?

A common complaint in couple’s therapy is that one or both partners does not feel heard. “My partner doesn’t get me. We aren’t connecting. We are having a problem with communication. I don’t feel heard.” When someone wants to be heard, as we all do, she wants you to listen to, understand, and share her experience with her. How can you do this? By standing beside her and looking at what she is describing from her perspective. And then by adding your comments which show you understand and validate her experience.

Here’s an example:

Sweetie: “I had an awful day at work today.”

You: “Oh no! What happened?”

Sweetie: “Amy once again dropped the ball; I can’t find those reports I need, and now my boss wants another report finished in a week! Even if Amy hadn’t screwed up AGAIN, I would need at least two weeks to do the next report!”

And now for a pop quiz! Which of the following responses constitutes being heard:

  1. I’m sure if you just sit down with your boss and explain things, you can work things out. Calm down and try not to let it worry you.
  2. Wow, that bites. That sounds really frustrating, and stressful.
  3. (As you look up from your phone) I’m sorry…did you say something? The soccer game has been postponed until Wednesday, btw.
  4. What I hear you saying is that Amy screwed up, you can’t find what you need, and you need two weeks –not one– to finish the next report.
  5. How bout I take you out to dinner? That should make you feel better.
  6. Do you need a hug?
  7. I’m sure tomorrow will be better.
  8. My day wasn’t very good either. Amy sounds like a scatterbrain, but she’s probably not as bad as Brad. He is so much worse.
  9. If you would start documenting Amy’s screw-ups, maybe she would change.
  10. You’re just going to have to tell your boss you can’t do it in a week. Nobody is going to rescue you; you have to stand up for yourself.

Response number 2 is being heard. Number 4 is being listened to, and everything else is some form of advice (except for number 3!).

What makes it being heard is that you are seeing things from her perspective and sharing her feelings with her regarding her situation. You are validating her experience. And that’s what we all crave. To be heard. To be validated. When your partner feels validated, she will most likely be able to relax, and feel relief. A deep need has been met. Now, she can get on with the business of solving the problem in a practical way. And because she feels heard by you, she will be more open to your advice later on. You have listened to her. She will be much more likely to listen to you.