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Why You Should Listen to Your Heart

But also listen to your partner.

Key points

  • Listening to your heart can help you make better decisions through the science of interoception.
  • Studies have shown that bodily signals—particularly from the heart—offer good guidance about potential choices.
  • When our partner is excited about something, we should be, too.

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways—and that's okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we're all these incredibly fragile beings. —Alain De Botton

We all have a voice inside our heads. The little voice tells us what to do, how to be, and how we should feel about things. This voice can be a powerful influence on our lives, but it's not always good. The problem with this voice is that it's often based on our fears and insecurities. We listen to it because we're afraid of making mistakes or looking foolish. We follow its advice because we want to feel safe and secure. But, in doing so, we often end up missing out on opportunities and relationships that could make our lives happier and more fulfilling.

Guidance From Bodily Signals

The solution is simple: Learn to listen to your heart instead of your head. When you do this, you'll find yourself making better decisions and reaching for opportunities that might otherwise have seemed too risky or uncertain. You'll also care less about what other people think and more about what makes you happy. So, next time you're faced with a decision, ask yourself: What would my heart tell me to do? Chances are, it'll be the right choice. While this might sound like the language of poets, it is actually part of something known as interoception—a cognitive-affective process of how well individuals can perceive subtle bodily changes. Studies have shown that bodily signals—particularly from the heart, offer good guidance about potential choices.

However, it's important to listen to your heart and your partner's if you're in a relationship. You need to be able to communicate effectively and compromise when necessary. If you're not listening to each other, staying connected and resolving conflicts will be difficult. When we listen with our hearts, we're able to really connect with our partners on a deeper level and understand their feelings and needs. This can be tough to do, especially when we're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, but it's so worth it. When we truly listen to our partners, we build stronger, more intimate relationships based on trust, respect, and understanding.

4 Ways to Respond to Others

Responding to others is something we always do, but we may not be aware of the different ways we can respond to something meaningful to our partner. This is what listening to our partner’s heart is all about. When they are excited about something, we should be, too. Of course, when they are upset, we need to listen with compassion. But we need to be especially thoughtful when they have something exciting to tell us. Relationship science has determined that there are four main ways to respond that are the basis for our interactions responding to our partner’s good news. Only one strengthens the relationship.

The four are termed passive-constructive, active-destructive, passive-destructive, and the one we should all strive for—active-constructive.1 Each of these has its effects on the person being responded to and on the relationship. I've written more extensively about these on Infijoy, and you can learn more about them here.

Passive-constructive responding is when we neither support nor oppose what the other person is saying. For example, if your partner says they got a new car, we might say, "That's cool." The underwhelmed response can dampen your partner’s enthusiasm. In the long run, it can feel like sharing the good news with you isn’t worth the trouble.

Active-destructive responding is when we directly contradict or argue with what the other person is saying. For example, if your partner says they got a new car, you might say, "You don't need a new car; your old one was just fine."

Passive-destructive responding is when we agree with what the other person is saying but don't add anything positive. For example, if your partner says they got a new car, we might say, "Yeah, I guess that's OK." Or we might usurp their good news with ours: “I just got a promotion!”

But active-constructive responding (ACR) happens when you listen to your partner’s heart. Their joy becomes your joy. If they tell you they got a new car, you’d want to say, “What kind did you get? When is it coming? You must be thrilled!” The goal of ACR is to have them relive their experience and to show your excitement for their heart’s desire.

When couples can do this, they do more than celebrate life together; they bring out the best in each other. Studies also show that couples who engage in active-constructive responding cultivate a shared reality,2 the experience of having an inner state believed to be shared by others. It is arguably, but likely, one of the best feelings to have in a relationship. It is what we look for in a partnership. As the English poet John Keats more eloquently said, "Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one."

It is so important to be in tune with your own emotions and feelings, and it is also important to be able to listen to and understand your partner's emotions and feelings. If you can do both of these things, you will be able to create a strong, lasting relationship built on love and mutual understanding.

References

1. Bar-Shachar, Y., & Bar-Kalifa, E. (2021). Responsiveness processes and daily experiences of shared reality among romantic couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(11), 3156-3176.

2. Dunn, B. D., Galton, H. C., Morgan, R., Evans, D., Oliver, C., Meyer, M., ... & Dalgleish, T. (2010). Listening to your heart: How interoception shapes emotion experience and intuitive decision making. Psychological science, 21(12), 1835-1844.

3. Gable, S. L., Impett, E. A., Reis, H. T., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228–245. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514. 87.2.228

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