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October 22, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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How can I get him to listen to me?


I have been with my boyfriend for 5 1/2 years, and we have been through rough times (like anyone). He always wants to be with his friends, and says I am jealous because I don't have as many friends. I don't need as many friends as he does. He says if I was nice to him then he would come over to my house more often.

How can I make him listen to me and what I am saying? He says when I try to help or suggest some help, I sound like I am trying to be his mother. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Mary, 44-year-old woman


Hello Mary,

That is a very interesting and important question: how to communicate better and not get into the common tug-of-war that many couples seem to end up in. Good communication skills are so essential to any relationship - learning how to listen to meanings as well as words in order to create a co-operative, caring relationship.

To communicate well, it is important to be able to listen to the words and the meaning underlying them, to ask questions, and clarify words that can have many meanings to avoid misunderstandings. We all mind-read, as words are limited, and try to guess what the other person is thinking or feeling. You may think that in asking for more time with someone, they would see it as a compliment, but oftentimes depending on their background, they may perceive it as a criticism and become defensive, or see it as a means of control and rebel. Think of how people react differently to the same statement. For example, a simple compliment may receive various reactions from shyness and denial, to pleasure or even indifference and anger. People read into comments based on their own life experiences.

It is important, therefore, to double-check your perception and realize that there are always alternatives. It appears from what you wrote that your boyfriend is not receiving your words as a request, as he mentions that you are trying to be his mother. Ask him what he means. For example, how does he see you being a mother? How was his mother? Is he reacting like a child and rebelling against what he sees as control? What does he think you could do or say differently?

"How can I make my boyfriend..." - you cannot make a grown man listen if he doesn't want to and the more you try, the more he feels nagged or controlled and resists. Learning how to communicate better would be the best answer. There are many books and workshops teaching compassionate listening. To avoid tug-of-wars, it is important not to make accusations or use any judgmental words. Try to avoid using the word "you". Instead, speak in first person.

First, clearly and simply state only the facts or events, and then briefly state your needs and how they affect you. Acknowledge his needs. For example: "We spent 3 evenings together this week" (watch for words like "only" as they are judgmental and can create a defensive reaction in the other person). "I feel lonely and rejected and believe that you do not really care about me". Don't state solutions, as they can be seen as demands, but ask to work on the problem solving together: "I know you enjoy your friends and I don't want you to stop seeing them. How can we reach a compromise?"

Communications takes two people. You cannot make your boyfriend listen but see how willing he is to work on better communication between the two of you.

This question was answered by Rivkah Horowitz M.S.W. She is a Clinical Social Worker with a private practice in Ottawa, Canada. She uses a combination of Cognitive-behavioral Therapy and relaxation techniques in her therapeutic approach. Issues that are dealt with vary from emotional problems stemming from childhood traumas to crises stemming from recent events (e.g. divorce). Telephone and face-to-face counseling are provided.

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