There are four main sentence structures for when you don't know what your partner is saying.
The first one is “Are you saying that...” This makes it clear that you don't understand and you need clarification. Make sure this is done with the right tone. If it comes across as accusatory, your partner may shut down rather than give you the information you need.
The next one is “Do you mean that...” This is very similar but instead of looking at what the person is saying, you are digging deeper into their actual aims.
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Then, you can dig deeper into your partner's words by repeating back the last few words he or she spoke to you. For instance, if your partner says “I feel angry when you do not clean up the mess you made,” you can say “When I don't clean up the mess I made?” By phrasing it as a question, you elicit further communication.
Finally, you can use the first three sentence structures in combination. Here's an example: “I understand that you are feeling ___. But are you also saying ___? So, you might say “I understand that you are feeling overwhelmed. But are you also feeling under appreciated?
Here's the point: when you use reflective listening, your partner feels that he or she has been heard, that their message has been understood, and that you value them. They will realize that you are showing them respect and that you are making a good faith effort in the relationship. Generally, they will leave the conversation feeling positive both toward you and toward the conversation itself. This is true even if you disagree about the issue.
The conversation moves forward as well. Your partner is encouraged to continue the dialogue because you haven't challenged them on core principles.
Finally, you have avoided power struggles. These are the unproductive shouting matches that make both sides feel that they have to stake out their positions and are loathe to move because that would be “giving in.” Power struggles are often marked by shouting matches. The parties use unproductive aggressive words and phrases such as “Yes I did” and “No I didn't.” The power struggle quickly becomes about who was right and who was wrong rather than focusing on a solution to a problem. The goal becomes to win the argument not to come to a resolution on the issue.
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