Relationships are dialogue and action. We seem to be more aware of the action part then we are of the dialogue part. Of course not keeping promises is a problem as is failing to keep our end of a bargain. But the words we choose and how we say things to each other matters just as much. Often, it is what we say to each other that kills intimacy rather then what we are doing.
One thing that we are all guilty of one time or another is ignoring each other’s feelings. Most of the time, we do this without realizing it is happening. We dismiss, minimize or change the subject. Many times we try to relate with others by telling of a time that we felt the same, but this is just changing the subject from how they are feeling right now. In a way, it suggests that how you feel is more important then how they feel. Telling someone that they will feel better tomorrow or that the emotion will no last is dismissing the emotion. Telling someone that they always feel that way can minimize it. Try to avoid these approaches to another person’s feelings.
Failing to engage with another persons feelings is failing to have a relationship with that person. The less you engage with a person on an emotional level, the less they will open up to you and the less likely they will reveal their inner thoughts to you. The relationship you have with them will become more and more shallow. Over time it is likely to disintegrate completely.
And here’s the thing, people aren’t looking for you to solve their problems. When they come to you saying “I’ve feeling like shit” or “I am really having a bad time.” They just want you to listen and to acknowledge their feelings. You don’t have to fix things are solve anything. Just listen with empathy. Be there. Unless a person asks you for advice, don’t give it. Just assume they don’t want it until they ask for it. Unsolicited advice dismisses the emotion and suggests that the person is incapable of managing their own life. This is two negative messages rolled up into one.
So, when you ask someone “How are you?” be ready to listen to the answer. The real answer. If their response is “I’m shitty,” be ready to listen to why they are feeling that way. Don’t ask a person how they are feeling if you don’t have time to listen. If you don’t have time to listen to someone about how they are feeling, be honest and tell them. But plan a time with them that you can talk later. Then be sure to meet them for that and be present.
What does being present mean? Yes, it means being physically there. But it also means really paying attention to what the other person is saying. Put your phone away. No messaging, checking mail or texting while they are talking. Give them your undivided attention. Don’t interrupt. Let them talk about what ever they want to. It’s their time. It really is amazing how far this can go to making the person feel better and in making your relationships stronger. Also, when you need someone there, you are more likely to get the support you need.