Lend An Ear

Hilary Smith

Hilary Smith is a writer with Relationship Services and an experienced counsellor. www.relate.org.nz

"Accepting your partner's point of view makes more difference than agreeing with it." 

"It makes such a difference when you really listen and hear what your partner is saying," says Hal Kennedy, Relationship Services Counsellor. People like feeling understood and accepted. You don't have to agree with someone to offer that. Focus yourself on how important this person is to you. If they are important, then it follows that how they feel and what they think are important too.

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"Assume that your partner's point of view is a valid position that matters to them and makes sense to them," Hal advises, "then take the time to explore their point of view and understand it without worrying about whether you agree with it or not."

Remember, the purpose of being genuinely interested in your partner's point of view is to better understand what is important to them, not to identify points to argue with. If you find yourself bursting to interrupt with a BUT, it's a pretty good clue that you're not applying yourself to listening and understanding. Check out your understanding. Is this what you're saying?  Ask them to tell you some more if you haven't got it right yet.

Once you and your partner are both satisfied that you really understand what is important to them you'll have done some great work for the relationship. You'll have shown empathy and respect for your partner by genuinely valuing their perspective.

Now it's time to shift the focus of attention to your view. Your partner probably feels good about you right now, so they will probably be inclined to listen well to you. You both feel attended too and understood. You feel warmed by each other's generosity. You haven't had to argue or divide yourselves into the 'winner' and the 'loser'. You've made space in your relationship for the differences you have.

In lots of cases it won't matter if you don't share the same view. When you do have to make a specific decision, this kind of conversation makes a better start than an antagonistic row. Understanding what both of you want is a good basis for coming up with a solution that covers as many of those wants as possible.

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