Take a minute to think about the last fight you had with someone. It could have been your friend, your spouse or a family member. Got it?
What was it that got you so mad? Believe it or not, what really got under your skin may not have been the obvious—like the fact your husband still hasn’t completed that one chore or that your mom still tries to control you. What really bugs you about those things, is a certain message you receive from them: You’re not being heard.
Think about it for a second.
Most fights you’ve had, no matter who they’ve been with, have probably revolved around you (and the other person) not feeling listened to. While you often intend for a talk to be productive, it ends up escalating because instead of understanding where you’re coming from, the other person still isn’t “getting” you.
The problem is, as you keep explaining your position, the other person only becomes more focused on you getting them. But why is being heard by someone so important to us? Why have countless marriages and families been torn apart because it’s been missing?
Simply this: Being heard makes us feel loved. In fact, we can’t feel loved if we don’t first feel heard.
Since childhood, we instinctively know that people attend to the things they care about most. So if we are truly listened to, we feel like we’re valued. When our feelings are received, we feel like we matter. And that is the most foundational desire of every person on the planet.
What if we then took a step back and realized this relationship problem isn’t about a certain situation, as much as it’s about feeling cared for? And what if we paused and considered the fact that this other person only wants the same thing we do?
Basically, every relationship we’re in would improve if we could be heard and hear others better.
Here are three ways we can increase the likelihood of both.
Speak from your heart.
When someone upsets us, we have options about how we’ll confront them. We can either yell or be sarcastic, while looking for ways to hurt them, or we can get honest and speak from our hearts. We can talk about our feelings in that moment.
Often the person doesn’t know that hiding behind our anger is really pain. We can allow ourselves to calmly share—not accuse—that what they did hurt us and why. Often people are not aware that their actions caused us pain, or they don’t realize to what extent, so we need not react with anger toward them. It’s a key point for us to consider.
As Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Being straightforward and vulnerable might not be easy in the moment, but it will likely diffuse the situation. When we are not in attack mode, the other person puts down his or her defenses. When we are calm and simply honest, they are more able to listen to us rather than fight back.
Take a breath and listen better.
While being heard is our natural priority, we won’t be heard if we keep focusing only on our own needs. If we want to be heard better, we’ve got to listen better too. Scripture says we are to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” (James 1:19)
When we take a breather, calm ourselves down and tell ourselves to just listen, we have the chance to show love. We can give out respect. And when we offer respect, we will get it back.
One way we can more easily do this in a moment of anger, is to consider what’s really going on: This person isn’t wanting to hurt us, as much as this person is hurting. There’s a saying that goes, “Hurt people hurt people.”
If we continue to create pain, even by refusing to truly hear their side, we will feed a vicious cycle that deteriorates the relationship.
Seek God to hear you.
Even the kindest, most loving friend or spouse cannot always hear us wholeheartedly. Maybe they had a long day at work or they’re preoccupied with a stressful family situation. Or maybe they are hearing you but they don’t know how to make you feel better, or you just feel like they can’t totally understand.
Human beings are imperfect. What we get from them is limited.
Some of us are especially vulnerable to not being satisfied by others because we have old wounds of insecurities that no person can heal. If we rely on them to fill that place in us that longs for total love and acceptance, we will come back short and then possibly become bitter or depressed.
Instead, we have a God who is consistently inviting us to seek Him as our closest partner. We can share our thoughts with Him—whether through words or through sighs—and He will get it. Completely. He will fully grasp what you feel, why exactly you feel it, with pure non-judgment. Whether we deserve it or not, He always offers grace and tender compassion.
This is our heart’s source. Our desire for total acceptance and deep consolation can only be filled to the brim by the Love who made us.
And as we connect consistently with God, we can receive His love not only for ourselves, but also for those with whom we interact. Now we have a source from which we can draw. Now we can give love and patience to others because we are nourished by it ourselves.
And as said earlier, that’s the place we’ll get it back.
Jade Mazarin is a Christian counselor who offers Skype sessions for those outside her area. Find her at jademazarin.net or on Facebook. She is the author of The Heart’s Journey to Freedom.