Why Do People Scream?

People scream in order to be heard. The thinking seems to go: "He/she isn't listening; I need to say it again and again, louder and louder. That way I will get my message across." Unfortunately the only message we get across that way is, "You are my enemy." If Rachel yells at Eli, she may feel some relief – she's had a chance to release her tension and express her feelings. However, Eli – on the receiving end – has just received a generous dose of verbal abuse. In other words, my anger is your abuse. Being yelled at is always a horrible experience; we feel hurt, bullied, disrespected, rejected and more. We react by withdrawing our affection from those who are willing to hurt us in this way.

Alternative Strategies

Clearly, yelling at a spouse is not going to get us what we want or enhance our marriage in any way. Indeed, our sages teach us, "The words of the wise are heard when spoken softly." Our strength lies in restraint. We must hold back and plan our communication so that it can make a truly positive impact. Instead of rushing to get our point across, knocking down our loved one in the panic to be heard, we need to slow down, listen and learn. Speaking is the last thing we want to do when we're feeling misunderstood.

The person who "doesn't get it" is actually sitting in his or her own world trying to be understood by YOU! Busy trying to express him or herself and be acknowledged, this person cannot even begin to pay attention to your need to be heard. There is only one way through this door: you must give the speaker his or her turn. The speaker's "turn" involves two aspects:

1. having the opportunity to say everything that he or she wants to say, PLUS

2. receiving an acknowledgment of the entire message that was conveyed.

Only after these two tasks have been completed can YOU begin your own communication. This process in which you listen and acknowledge the speaker, allows the speaker to feel finished, relieved and satisfied. The speaker is much more likely then to be in a psychological position to receive your message. It is possible, of course, that the speaker will never want to hear you no matter what you do (some people do have emotional difficulties that interfere with relationship skills and others just lack good communication skills). However, you greatly increase the chances that two-way communication will occur when you do the required listening and acknowledging. Without this step, the chances that no one will feel heard are tremendously increased, making yelling, fighting and struggling much more likely to happen.

Listening is the Most Important Part

Although being a good listener does indeed make it more likely that you will eventually be heard, this is not the most important benefit of this skill. On the contrary – the listening itself, is the therapeutic, healing aspect of the communication. When you make your partner feel received, understood, heard and accepted you will reap the benefits in increased affection, intimacy, love and good-will. This is all before you have a chance to express your own views or concerns! In other words, just by listening, you can improve your relationship a hundred fold. Therefore, it is worth learning a few tips that can improve your listening abilities:

  • Do not interrupt the speaker.
  • Summarize what the speaker is saying in your own words.
  • Refrain from commenting on the speaker's thoughts until the speaker has said everything that he or she wants to say AND you have summarized everything that was said.
  • Think about what the speaker is saying while the speaker is speaking – NOT about what you are planning to say in rebuttal.
  • Remind yourself that the speaker is your life partner – not your lethal enemy.
  • When the speaker is criticizing or otherwise "attacking" you, listen with curiosity; look for the kernel of truth in any accusations so that you can better understand why the speaker is so distressed. Keep in mind that you are a good person and the speaker is a person who is temporarily upset. The speaker is not the ultimate Judge of your worthiness – that job is up to G‑d.

Compassionate listening is a rare skill that can turn you into your own marital therapist – save yourself thousands of dollars and start practicing it now!