When you are upset and someone offers mindful attention and is truly present, you naturally open up to them. This kind of interaction results in positive feelings of being cared for, without the other person having to offer any words of advice. The greater the intensity of your feelings, the greater your gratitude for a space in which to be understood. When you are deeply seen and heard, your love grows.
But your need to be heard by your partner becomes more complicated when their behavior has contributed to your upset. Sharing your feelings can prompt a defensive reaction that begins a tragic cycle of attack and defend that takes you further from the connection you both truly desire.
Learning to ask for the kind of attention and presence we need when we are upset does not come easily to most couples; and some partners believe that if the loving gift of truly listening is not offered spontaneously, then it is not meaningful. But letting go of this idea opens the way to the practice of a simple, although not easy, exercise called a Heart Talk. This process has created remarkable results for many couples, even when the person requesting the talk initially doubted their partner’s willingness to participate. Here are the steps:
- Ask your partner if they are able to offer space for a Heart Talk and give an estimate of how long it will take to have the talk. This may be only a few minutes.
- Give your partner the option to decline, and if they do, ask them to offer an alternative time during the same or next day.
- At the agreed time, find a quiet place to talk, where there won’t be any distractions.
- Sit together, with a comfortable distance and posture and take some quiet breaths together while holding soft eye contact.
- When ready, connect with the sensations in your heart and begin, using “I statements,” to avoid making accusations or judgments, using this structure: When you…I felt…because… For example: “When you showed up an hour late yesterday, I felt hurt, because it seemed like I wasn’t important to you.”
- Then, suggest something concrete that your partner could do to meet your needs in the future.
- Your partner remains quiet, and non-reactive, throughout your explanation. When you’re done, your partner makes an attempt to “mirror back” the experience you have communicated, without commentary or judgment. They might begin by saying, “I’d like to see if I understand your experience. So, from your perspective…Did I get that right?”
- If your partner has expressed an incomplete “hearing” of your experience, thank them for their efforts so far and make another attempt to share your experience using an “I statement.”
- Once you are satisfied that you have been heard accurately, ask your partner to hold the information in their heart for 24 hours before responding.
- During the 24-hour period, your partner thinks over what you’ve shared, in order to respond in a way that will be meaningful to your relationship.
- Then either of you can ask for a follow-up on the Heart Talk. During the follow-up, your partner begins by saying some form of “After listening to you, this is what is moving in my heart…”