When we feel heard, we believe that our partner understands and respects us. On the other hand, not feeling heard in a relationship can lead to feeling neglected, and eventually, this can cause resentment.
Read on to learn how you can express your feelings and improve your relationship if you find yourself thinking, “I just want to be heard!”
Not feeling heard in a relationship – What are the causes?
Ultimately, not feeling heard in a relationship is the result of your partner simply not listening, or appearing to not listen to you, when you share your feelings or concerns.
Listening to your partner requires being present in a relationship, and there are several reasons that can explain why your partner doesn’t seem to listen:
They’re overwhelmed by the feelings you’re sharing with them, and they’re shutting down or becoming defensive.
Your partner doesn’t have much tolerance for strong emotions and has a difficult time with communication.
You’re trying to communicate with your partner at a bad time, such as when they are engaged in a project or trying to get ready for work.
Your partner may be stressed or anxious and unable to fully listen to your concerns.
Take a look at yourself; perhaps your partner feels resentment because they perceive that you’re not hearing them either, or maybe you’re not communicating in a way that they understand.
Research has taken a look at what causes communication breakdown between partners and ultimately leads one or both of them to feel unheard.
According to the results of a study in Brain, Cognition and Mental Health, people are more likely to respond defensively to statements that begin with you, such as, “You never help around the house!” compared to statements that begin with, “I.”
Beyond the reasons above, sometimes feeling unheard can be because your partner has a different viewpoint from you, and this is entirely normal.
Different people have different perspectives, and if you feel unheard, it might just be that you’re stuck trying to convince your partner that you are correct and they are incorrect, when in reality it is normal to sometimes disagree.
Things you need to talk about with your partner
Every marriage or relationship will need communication. While many people think that eventually, people run out of things to talk to each other about, that is anything but true. There will always be something to talk about, especially if it involves the health of your relationship or marriage.
Here are some things you may want to talk about with your partner.
Communicating feelings in a relationship can be challenging, and if you’re not heard, it can lead you to question, “Why don’t you listen to me?”
If you’re struggling with communication in your relationship, here are 10 signs to look for that suggest your partner isn’t hearing you:
1. You have the same arguments repeatedly
When you communicate and your partner truly hears you, they will understand what you have said, and hopefully resolve whatever issue has come up in the relationship.
On the other hand, if they are not hearing you, chances are that you will have to explain yourself over and over, and have the same arguments, because they aren’t understanding you well enough to resolve the issue at hand.
2. They can remember other things, but not things that you tell them
When you find your partner forgetting about things you’ve asked them to do, but they can remember things that are important to them, such as a friend’s birthday or the details of a weekend golf outing, the reality is that they’re simply not listening to you.
3. They apologize but then do not change their behavior
Maybe the two of you have a big argument, and your partner apologizes and promises to change, but then does nothing to alter their behavior afterwards. This means that they are simply trying to put an end to the argument, and they are not really listening to what you’re asking them to change.
Disagreements are a normal part of any relationship, but if your partner avoids talking them out, this is a clear sign they aren’t hearing you.
Maybe they claim to be busy every time the conversation comes up, or perhaps they actively avoid it by refusing to talk. Either way, they cannot possibly hear your concerns if they’re tuning you out every time you try to address them.
5. Your arguments drag on until you’re exhausted
If your partner is truly listening to you and understanding what you are trying to communicate, the conversation should be relatively short and simple.
On the other hand, if arguments drag on seemingly all day, your partner has no intention of listening to what you’re trying to communicate. Instead, they are attempting to exhaust you until you give in and drop the issue.
6. Attempts to communicate involve your partner lashing out at you
When your partner isn’t hearing you, discussions will turn into your partner lashing out at you and blaming you for the issue, because they aren’t willing or emotionally able to listen to what you’re trying to communicate with them.
7. When you express disagreement with your partner, they use other people as an example
For instance, if you are unhappy with the way something is going in your relationship, your partner may say that the way you’re doing things works for another couple you know.
Your partner isn’t really hearing your concerns and is instead trying to dismiss you by proving that what you’re saying isn’t really a problem, since it’s not a problem for other people.
8. Your partner insists upon proving why they are right
When you’re communicating in a healthy manner, the goal isn’t to prove that one person is wrong and the other is right, but rather to communicate to understand each other’s perspective. With this type of communication, there is no winner and loser.
On the other hand, if your partner communicates just to win an argument, this can certainly lead to not feeling heard in a relationship, because they’re so focused on proving their point that they aren’t hearing your perspective.
9. Your significant other always appears distracted
If they pull out their phone every time you try to talk, chances are that your significant other is tuning you out and isn’t actually hearing what you’re saying.
10. Body language suggests that they aren’t listening
Body language is also important. If your partner looks around the room while you’re talking, turns away from you, or doesn’t make eye contact, this can lead to you feeling neglected, because they aren’t actually engaged in the conversation with you.
What to do when you’re feeling unheard in your relationship
When you notice the above signs of not being heard, you will probably feel quite frustrated. You may even think, “I don’t want to be heard; I want to be listened to.” When you’re feeling this way, there are things you can do to address the issue. Consider the 10 tips below:
1. Start the conversation gently
When you’re feeling unheard, it is natural to have some anger and frustration, but if you approach the situation with anger, your partner is likely to feel attacked.
Relationship expert John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute, recommends the “soft start up,” in which you approach an issue of concern by expressing how you feel, without being critical.
2. Learn to express your emotions
The reality is that you can express how you feel without being critical. If you’re feeling sad, lonely, or neglected, communicate this to your partner. This will help them to understand the seriousness of the situation.
Maybe a contributing factor to not feeling heard in a relationship is that you are approaching your partner at inconvenient times.
Is it possible that you’re trying to start serious conversations when your partner is in the middle of watching their favorite show, or trying to get something done around the house? Consider talking to them at a different time.
4. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
If you are feeling unheard, you have probably come to believe that your partner intends to hurt you, but this may not be the case.
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt and assume that they do not mean to neglect you, and you are less likely to approach them with anger and resentment.
5. Realize that you’re going to have to talk about the issue
You may be stuck in a cycle of saying the same things to your partner over and over, hoping that they will eventually hear you, but if you want to resolve the issue, you have to talk about it.
You can’t expect that one day, your partner will understand your perspective. Sit down and have a talk, where you are open with them about the fact that you feel they are misunderstanding you.
When communicating feelings in a relationship, it is helpful to use, “I statements,” so that you take ownership of what you are saying.
Instead of saying, “You never help with the dishes,” it might be more helpful to say, “I am feeling overwhelmed and need your help with the dishes.” With the latter, your partner is less likely to feel attacked and shut down as a result.
7. Check that your partner is understanding you
Remember that we all have different perspectives and life experiences, so while you may think that you are communicating in a way that your partner can understand, it’s possible that they are still missing your message.
8. Take a break from the conversation if it gets heated
When you’re in the middle of a conversation and it devolves into a heated argument, it is probably time to take a break. Continuing to argue back and forth isn’t going to lead to either of you feeling heard, because you’re likely to become defensive.
Begin by expressing your point, and then pause and let your partner respond. It can also be helpful during this process to allow each other an opportunity to summarize your understanding of what the other has said, to ensure you are not missing anything.
10. Become a better listener yourself
Oftentimes, communication breakdown is a two-way street, meaning that if you are not feeling heard, your partner may be feeling the same way.
Make an effort to be a better listener yourself, and truly focus on what your partner is saying, instead of waiting for your turn to talk or defend yourself. If you become a better listener, your partner may, in turn, get better at listening to you.
If you need to understand more about things you should talk about, especially when you do not feel heard, watch this video.
What not to do when you’re feeling unheard in a relationship
Just as there are things you can do to cope with feeling unheard, there are things you should not be doing:
Don’t place blame on your partner. Blaming your partner for the issue will feel like an attack, leading them to shut down, which will leave you continuing to feel unheard.
Don’t fixate on trying to prove why you’re right and your partner is wrong. In many disagreements, there is no “right person” and “wrong person.” Accept that your partner may have a different perspective than you, and stop trying to prove why you’re right. Instead, try to arrive at understanding and/or compromise.
Don’t turn on your defenses. It’s natural to want to defend yourself when you are feeling unheard or neglected, but this doesn’t open the door to effective communication. Instead of becoming defensive, pause, take a deep breath, and calmly express your point of view.
When you are not feeling heard in a relationship, you are likely to also feel hurt, frustrated, and perhaps a bit angry. While these are natural reactions, it is important to avoid lashing out at your partner or trying to make them feel bad.
Instead, open up the lines of communication, and be prepared to hear your partner’s point of view. It may be that you are not communicating in a way that they can understand, or perhaps you’re trying to approach them for conversation when they are consumed by another task.
If you notice signs that your partner is not hearing you, make an effort to have a calm conversation but express yourself fully. If you find that you are still struggling to communicate, couples counseling may be helpful.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.