One of the most common complaints couples bring to my office is that they don’t communicate. This is not exactly accurate because we are always communicating. What often is going on is that they don’t like what the other is communicating. And good communication is key to a good marriage.
Speaking and Listening. When professionals talk about communication, they usually split it into two components: speaking and listening. Few of us have trouble with the speaking half. It’s the listening part that gives most of us trouble. There’s a saying that we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems that we have this ratio backwards.
Part of the problem is that, the longer a couple is together, the more likely they assume they know what the other person is going to say. But I’m sure you’re familiar with the adage about what happens when you assume. This isn’t the only problem that occurs when listening doesn’t truly take place.
Poor Listening? Think about the last conversation you and your spouse had that didn’t go well. What role did poor listening play? It’s not unusual to listen just long enough to get a feel for where your partner is heading. Then, you begin to plan your response before they have even finished speaking. Your partner then repeats the same process with you, and on and on. It’s no wonder your conversation goes off track.
It can often be very difficult to really listen to your partner, especially if the topic is hard or deeply personal. The more it is based on your spouse’s feelings about you or the relationship, the harder it is to really hear them out. However, this is when your ability to listen to their perspective is most critical.
A Special Gift You Can Give Them. Being able to truly hear hard messages from your partner is a special gift you can give them. One way of doing this is to be able to separate their feelings from what is “real”. Not getting caught up in what really happened and staying focused on how your partner perceived the events will help you accomplish this. “Correcting” your spouse with your version of the facts will leave you in a never-ending discussion of who is right and what your partner is really trying to share with you will be lost. You both will end up frustrated and feeling more disconnected.
Validation. It’s important to remember that these are your partner’s experiences and you can have different ones. You can validate their feelings without taking them on as your own. The important thing is to recognize is that they are very real to your partner. Finding a way to acknowledge them will make your partner feel important and validated.
Week 1: Take this week to get a baseline on how well you are listening to your partner. Pay close attention to whether you allow them a chance to finish talking before you prepare your answer. Also, watch for the times you correct your partner about the facts or their feelings.
Week 2: Focus on what your partner is saying to you. Before you respond, practice rephrasing what they said back to them. This will let you know if you really got what they were telling you. You will also get good feedback on any assumptions you might be making.
Week 3: Focus on whether you get caught up in focusing on the “facts” your partner is presenting and correcting them. Practice stepping back and paying attention to to the deeper message they are sharing. Take care to manage your emotional reactions as this is one of the main culprits in not being able to really listen.
Week 4: Reevaluate your listening skills as the conversations get more involved or emotional. continue to pay attention to what gets in your way of listening to your partner. If your partner is being critical or you cannot relate to their position, request a time out so you can process what they are trying to tell you.
Listening is a skill you can learn. Like any skill, patience and practice are important for mastery.
Let me know how it’s going! Share your successes and any challenges you might be having. I have included a free podcast to go along with this message.
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Thank You Again! ~ Lesli Doares 919-924-0463