Understanding relationships is tough! Two people together, emotionally connected, and trying to navigate adulthood side by side is complicated. It gets even harder if there is a lack of understanding between those two people.
The idea of understanding each other in a relationship seems simple enough on the surface, but it can be challenging to execute well. I hear clients often lament that they don’t feel understood or struggle to understand their partner.
So, how do we cultivate a relationship of understanding between two individuals? How can we best understand another person? What does being understanding in a relationship truly look like?
Read on to learn how to be more understanding in a relationship and how to get someone to understand you, too.
What does it mean to be understanding?
The idea of achieving understanding relationships is common but also confused. Having understanding relationships doesn’t mean you agree, like, or have to go along with what someone else is saying or feeling. You don’t have to “get it” or “feel it” to accept and understand.
In understanding relationships, you can empathize with the other person, make space for them to think and feel the way that they do, and respect that what they’re experiencing is about them and not about you.
Why is understanding important in a relationship?
You might be asking yourself, “why is it important to understand each other” in the first place? If we care about one another, enjoy each other’s company, and have a great time, why do we need to work so hard to build understanding relationships, too?
The importance of understanding in relationships goes far beyond the surface and is the key to unlocking a lot of other important parts of a great relationship.
Two reasons why understanding is important in a relationship are connection and trust.
When a partner feels like we are showing up with both love and understanding, they feel truly seen and heard. These are two of the most common things I hear my clients share that they want to feel intimate and connected with their significant other.
How to improve relationship understanding
1. Ask for what you want
If you’re feeling misunderstood in your relationship, it’s your job to get what you want. A great place to start is telling your partner, “What I need from you is understanding.”
But don’t stop there.
Explain what you mean by “understanding” and what you believe it looks like to behave in an understanding way can help your partner give you what you want.
Your partner might have a different idea of what it means and looks like to be understanding, so by sharing what you’re looking for, you can help ensure you get what you want, and your partner doesn’t have to guess. Win, win!
2. Listen with curiosity instead of judgment and don’t make it about you
When we disagree or feel attacked, we tend to get defensive and judgmental of what our partner is sharing with us. This can move us towards a fight, misunderstanding our partner, and ultimately challenges our relationship and intimate connection.
This highlights why understanding is important in a relationship!
If we have understanding relationships, we don’t jump to conclusions as often, and we can get curious about what our partner is sharing instead of defensive.
Try listening to your partner like they’re telling you a story about someone else (even if it’s about you.) Get curious about how they’re feeling here, why they think the way they do, and what impact this has on them. Try to refocus your attention on them and their story instead of how you might be feeling about what they’re saying.
Ask powerful, curious questions to encourage your partner to share more about what they’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing so you can deepen your understanding of them.
Resist your urge to react or fight back. You can’t listen for understanding if you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next!
Empathy allows us to take perspective on what someone is saying, imagine how or why they might be feeling that way without having to feel the emotion ourselves.
For example, if your partner is sharing they felt judged by something you said, but you didn’t intend to judge them, empathy can help you understand where they’re coming from even if you disagree. (You don’t have to agree to practice empathy.)
Try to take perspective and empathize with the idea of feeling judged. It doesn’t feel good to feel judged, does it? Especially by a partner.
By relating to their experience instead of why they’re experiencing it, you can better understand and support your partner.
4. Learn to listen beyond the words that are being said
The words we say are only a portion of our overall communication. Often in communication, we get so lost in the words that we forget to also pay attention to the person saying those words.
Communication goes beyond the sentences your partner is speaking aloud.
Try to pay attention to all of your partner’s different aspects while they are sharing with you.
What is their tone of voice like? Are they speaking fast or slow? How are they holding themselves? Looking directly at you or the floor? Are they fidgety, breathing quickly, or stammering?
These cues can help you better understand the person’s experience beyond the words they’re using.
Words only get us so far in understanding relationships.
The video below discusses the practice art of reflective listening. For successful and understanding relationships, this helps in quick fixes and works as a great communication tool.
4. Try to understand before trying to be understood
Each individual’s job indeed is to stand up for themselves and share their thoughts and feelings. Understanding in a relationship is a two-way street, and both partners must be heard. Neither one of you can listen to if you’re too busy talking and focusing on yourself.
If you’re trying to improve understanding in your relationship, see if you can put your partner first and gain understanding before you offer your side.
If you still feel disconnected or frustrated about your relationship understanding or with your partner, you might consider enrolling in an online marriage course like this or consulting a therapist or relationship coach.
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.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.