Being emotionally close with your partner doesn’t make you a mind-reader. There are techniques that border on mind-reading, such as owning your partner’s narrative. Even then, however, there is no direct connection that gives you complete and total access to the thoughts and emotions of your partner.
We might be moving in the direction of two people who are acting as one, but there is still always some degree of separation; acting as one with our partner is a work in progress measured in degrees, not something we arrive at entirely.
Because we’re never 100 percent in our partner’s body and mind, there’s always the need for communication. When we’re a strong couple, we work together and this communication comes easily. When there still are some major walls in the relationship, we work in opposition and communication becomes a challenge.
Communicating well in your relationship requires getting the right information from your partner, first of all, then treating it as your own. Let’s look at how you can do this.
Since we can’t mind-read, and our brains don’t have Wi-Fi yet, there’s a lot of scope for misunderstanding what our partner is communicating. We might hear the words but miss the meaning, we might tune out during a critical sentence, or we might believe we know the point and not actually listen. This can be likened to a bad Skype call. We’re sending data, but not all the dating is arriving so the video or audio quality is poor.
The solution for the communication gap with our partner is the same solution used by web pages.
Ever notice that while Skype video can look like crap, web pages still load fine? That’s because web pages can send the data again until everything arrives, while Skype doesn’t have that luxury; video calling is real-time.
We can do the same when communicating in our relationship. When communication is flowing, we talk as normal. But when there seems to be a gap in understand, we can switch to a process that checks for data fidelity. Was there packet loss, to use the jargon of the Internet, or did all the data from my partner arrive properly?
During these moments when we are not coming together with our partner in a conversation, when there is an obvious communication disconnect, we can switch to listening and verification mode.
First, make sure you and your partner are actually listening. Start by talking in turn, not at the same time.
Step 1: Let Them Talk
Listen for one or two minutes while your partner talks. You’re in the listening chair. Don’t interrupt, don’t interject with the correct version of the story, don’t say a word. Just listen.
Step 2: Summarize
Once your partner’s two minutes are up, or they have completed their thought, verbalize back what you’ve just heard. You’re summarizing the data you’ve just gotten from your partner, whether it is facts, emotions or questions. The point is letting your partner know what you’ve actually heard—and keeping you honest in the listening!
“So I think what I just heard you say is that you feel hurt when I don’t respond to your text messages quickly because you think that means I don’t respect you,” you might verbalize back. “Was that about right? Did I miss anything?”
Your summary probably will be longer, but you get the idea.
Step 3: Check for Accuracy
Now that your partner knows what you heard, this is the all-important step where they verify or correct your understanding of what was communicated.
“Yes, you got it right,” your partner might say. Or if there was an inconsistency between what was said and what was heard, your partner might gently guide you back to the message with something like, “You mostly got it right, but there’s this other detail I think you’re missing from what I said.”
This gets you working on the same team even while you’re miscommunicating, and it ensures that no data is lost between sender and receiver. It also focuses us on ideas, not words.
Step 4: Switch Roles and Repeat
We normally are waiting our turn for rebuttal, clarification or comment at this point. Now that we are sure we have heard our partner, it is our partner’s turn to listen, summarize and have us verify accuracy.
Take turns going back and forth through this process, and look for opportunities to give way and cede the floor to your partner as a sign of deeper partnership.
“You want to go again? Sure, go on to your next idea,” you might say, giving your partner two or three blocks in a row before you again request an opportunity to speak.
All this is pretty straightforward and probably something you know already, even if you don’t put it into practice. The next step is generally less known, however—and definitely less practiced!
Once you have established good data sharing, the next step is owning the data communicated by your partner.
If data isn’t shared accurately, we obviously cannot come together with our partner. But even if we get the right message, the crucial second part is integrating this data with our existing understanding. If a web page loads data that we can’t see because we’re missing the right plugin, there’s no point in the data transmission.
We gotta integrate the data from our partner, in other words, and that requires owning it as our own.
For factual data communicated by our partner, this is not hard. We just need proof. The proof can be hearing the full story and having it make sense. It can be doing a little research after the conversation. It might be as simple as trusting our partner because their data is reliably accurate.
Emotional content, on the other hand, requires a more active process for most people. It requires empathy before we can own our partner’s emotions.
When your partner tells you emotional content, actively relate their feelings and experience to your own. Think back to when you were in a similar situation and felt a similar emotion. Imagine you were in their shoes, and relieve the experience in your head as if it was you, not your partner. Think about the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tactile feelings as a way to own your partner’s experience. You might even act out their experience, verbalizing back key moments as if you were an actor playing the part of your partner in that moment.
The point is taking the data from your partner and using it, not hearing the message and just letting it go. The more you can harmonize your partner’s data with your own, the more you will be on their team.
This still won’t make you a mind-reader. But with time, it might get you close. So please try this technique and see if it helps in those moments when you and your partner just aren’t communicating and seeing eye to eye.
I know this is easier said than done. So if you need help with this technique, please let me know and I’ll be happy to help. You also can get more techniques like this by signing up for our free email newsletter. Please join us!
Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.