The skill of hearing

The Problem

My partner says I don’t know how to listen. I think I do a good job, but we seem to misunderstand each other a lot.

The Solution

Even when we know the other person isn’t trying to hurt us on purpose, sometimes their responses make us feel like they aren’t really listening. Like every other skill you have, there is probably a better way to listen than we do naturally. 

Here are a few key pointers:  1) When you hear something that you don’t understand, or that seems negative, respond with a question in as positive a tone as you can. Questions that start with “Can you clarify …” or “How do…” or even “Why…”  can often let the other person clarify what they mean to say more fully and avoid jumping to conclusions. 2) When you do hear something you disagree with, try saying something like “That’s different than I see it, but I’d really like to hear more about your thoughts… maybe I’m missing some information.” And then let them clarify without jumping in with comments right away.  The more we open the door for respectful listening, the more others will be comfortable really sharing their feelings and ideas.

“PAIRS skills are so simple, and yet so powerful. I just wish I’d known about them years earlier!”  – Jason C.


The Problem:

If I were what I should be in our relationship, I would never be tired, forgetful, afraid, weak… but I am. Therefore, I feel inadequate. I must hide my feelings so you won’t find out how inadequate I really am … I live a lie, and I resent it.

The Solution:

All of us have times when we feel bad. Hiding our feelings from each other keeps us strangers and actually creates distance between us. The distance then makes us feel unloved and unlovable, which builds feelings of being inadequate.

Sharing feelings brings us closer. Sharing your feelings with your partner helps your partner to be able to confide their own feelings, too. Discover and learn ways of sharing those feelings in a non-blaming way – neither blaming your partner or yourself. Sitting quietly together and using “I” sentences, speak from your heart. For instance, you might say, “I notice recently that I don’t feel as productive at work as I’d like. It’s frustrating, and I don’t think things will change until the new person comes on board next month in my division. But I think you’re probably sensing I’m a bit stressed, and I just wanted to let you know what’s going on.”

Sharing doubts, frustrations, even if you are feeling a little unsure or weak, can be very connecting – IF the listening partner just listens with empathy and doesn’t jump in with lots of “fixes” and suggestions and comments. When we open up and share a vulnerability, hearing a “fix it” from our partner only heightens our feelings of inadequacy, even though that isn’t their intent. An empathetic hug or asking – “Anything I can do?” is much more connecting and will make you both feel better.  

[This month’s PAIRS Quick Tips concept is drawn from the book, Love Knots, written by PAIRS creator, Dr. Lori Gordon.]

“Before I just wanted out…PAIRS definitely helped save our marriage.” Jo K., NC

The Challenge of Connection

The Problem:

When I’m being very attentive and focusing on my partner, they pull into a shell — what do I do?

The Solution:

Often couples can get into a seeker-sought pattern, where one person takes the role of pursuing the other for attention, communication and activities together.

Typically, when that happens, the other person can react by distancing and seeming to not be interested or very enthused about whatever’s been suggested.  This can be about simple things like suggesting what to have for dinner, and include such diverse things as deciding about vacation plans or times for physical closeness. 

Take some time to think about whether this pattern is happening between you two.  Which are you most often — the seeker or the sought?  One way to change things is to recognize and talk about how it seems you’ve both fallen into one or the other way of reacting, and then making a concerted effort to “take turns” being in charge.  Alternate who initiates activities, or who decides on plans for the weekend.  Remind each other ….  it’s your turn to plan and my turn to follow along.  When doing this, remember to keep it light, and enjoy fun times together.


“I am more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been.  PAIRS has opened my awareness.” – Barbara S., NC

PAIRS workshops are offered throughout the year.

See for details.

Interesting connections

The Question:

Sometimes it feels like I have nothing to say that’s new to my partner. I don’t want to keep having the same boring “how was your day?” conversation all the time.

The Answer:

It’s true that one of the best ways to have an interesting conversation – is to become more interesting yourself!  It’s not a good idea to expect or depend on our partners to liven things up – we need to become more alive ourselves! That means perhaps subscribing to a national news weekly magazine, and reading about a variety of topics… including those you might not be in the habit of reading. Even short articles on science, international news, entertainment, politics, sports, the arts, can provide interesting subjects for discussion. 

Share what you’ve read, and give your thoughts on it… then ask for your partner’s reactions and thoughts on it, too.  Take a class, watch some TV that is different from standard shows, such as the History Channel, Science Channel, National Geographic, Discovery, PBS shows – all these can give new and interesting topics and ideas to share and discuss. 

Connecting isn’t just about sharing how your day has gone – although that is certainly lovely, too.  Growing and learning together can truly enliven a relationship.

Is it work?

The Question:

If I have to work at it, is this a bad relationship?

The Answer:

That depends on your definition of “work.”  Would you consider giving your partner a foot rub or back rub work?  Would sitting together for a few minutes sharing what has gone on in your day be work?  How about finding out that your partner would love to go to a local outdoor concert, and calling to make plans and arrangements so you can go?  Or, turning off the TV for half an hour to really focus attention on each other the way you did when you were first dating?

Some people expect that once they are married, they can now turn all their energy outside the relationship – to work, children, hobbies, sports – and somehow think the marriage will feel nurtured and supported.  When we treat our partners well, the “work of a relationship” necessary to keep things happy is very easy – just a few minutes each day of attention, sharing, connecting – thinking of the OTHER person, and listening attentively to THEIR wants, needs and feelings. You don’t have to fix everything, or be the expert about their interests – just being there, listening and caring is what’s needed.  Yes, you could call it “work,” but can be some of the most pleasurable work you’ll ever do.

PAIRS has shown me how to focus on things I chose to ignore. I have grown in more ways than I can count, and will always treasure my time in PAIRS.” – Debbie J., VA

To learn about our education workshops, please see

Gentle Persuasion

The Question:

Why does my partner say they will do something, but then keep putting it off or saying they forget it?

 The Answer:

We all tend to do things that:  (1) make us feel good, (2) we are in the habit of doing and (3) we have been convinced we have to do whether we want to or not. If you are asking your partner to do things that are in the #3 category most of the time, you will be having lots of power struggles, which can lead to tension and arguments.  If this is a new type of activity that your partner hasn’t done much before (and no habit has been established) – try to think of ‘what about this task might make them feel good.’   If you can find a link to a pleasurable outcome, the person will be drawn to do it, rather than pushed (which is exhausting over time). 

Positive reinforcement (the reward system) has been found to be the most effective learning process available.  That might mean a treat of some kind if the job is done (if we do the dishes together and get done earlier, we can go to that movie you wanted to see….  or, if I happily support your separate, quiet time several nights a week working on your car, maybe we could spend one full day together over that weekend doing something we both enjoy!) As the connection is made with the requested activity being linked to a pleasurable outcome, the power struggles can go away, and the relationship can be much happier. 

“PAIRS has shown me how to focus on things I chose to ignore. I have grown in more ways than I can count, and will always treasure my time in PAIRS.” – Debbie J., VA

To learn about our education workshops, please see

The Challenge of Time

Here’s this month’s PAIRS Quick Tips –
Just a minute to invest in your relationship skills!

The Problem:

I feel like I’m busy all day — how can I find time to keep nurturing my relationship?

The Solution:

Are there other activities in your day that you make happen, no matter what?  Finding the time for that activity was a choice.  You prioritized whatever that was over something else for at least a few minutes.  How much time does it take to keep your relationship nurtured, growing, happy and healthy?

Surprisingly, many studies show it can happen with just 15 minutes each day of focused, undivided attention on each other.  Turn off the TV and cell phones, find a quiet space where you are alone together and undistracted — then, each share just a bit of how you are feeling, how your day went, puzzles and concerns you might have.  When one is sharing, it’s helpful for their partner to focus on really listening, without offering solutions, fixes and comments.  It’s also helpful to be sitting across from each other and holding hands as you share.

Knowing that we are simply listened to, and are also able to be there as a good ear for our partner, builds trust and closeness.  At another time, there can be discussion about solutions, suggestions or comments.  But during your special 15 minutes, the focus is on listening to understand, and sharing what’s in your heart.  Couples who do this daily have consistently reported feeling happier — and if it means turning off the TV for 15 minutes a night, they say it is well worth it!  Try it for a week, and see if following this way of connection doesn’t draw you closer.

PAIRS skills are so simple, and yet so powerful.  I just wish I’d known about them years earlier!” – Jason C., FL