"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." ~Stephen R. Covey
Learning to communicate with your partner is a skill that requires a lot of practice. Take listening, there is a lot that you have to pay attention to in order to truly understand what your partner is saying. It is so much more than the actual words they are speaking, there is also the intent behind their words (what are they really trying to say) as well as body language that we have to pay attention to. With all of these signals to interpret it is no wonder things get lost in the translation and couples end up on different pages.
Without intentional, emphatic or attentional listening there cannot be healthy communication in a relationship. As a society we aren't very good at this. All too often we are hearing what others are saying to us without listening to the words they are saying. We get wrapped up in our own lives and try to multitask while our partner is talking. We may be thinking about how we are going to respond or let our thoughts wander. We can miss so much as we let the TV, radio or our social media distract us from what our spouse is trying to tell us. In order to create a strong, healthy and happy marriage, active LISTENING is required.
Here are a few tips you can try this week that will help to improve listening skills:
1. Give your spouse your FULL attention:
This is something I am often guilty of. As a full time student and mama I am constantly trying to check off things from my to-do list. When my husband calls I think I can keep working on my homework or surfing the internet but it always leaves me missing half of the conversation. I know I'm not the only out there guilty of giving into distractions while trying to have a conversation.
It is challenging to give our full attention to the speaker because in today's world distractions are literally at our fingertips. The best way to protect ourselves from being distracted is to actively turn away from our electronics. Turn off the TV, put your phones away and close your laptops. Doing this may be hard but it is an important way to show your partner that you care. This helps your partner to know that in that moment, they are the most important thing to you.
2. Don't think about how you are going to respond:
Be honest, how many of you have found yourself in an argument and while your partner is talking all you can think about is the next zinger you are going to hurt them with? Well, it's time to stop! Even when conversations are positive it can be very easy to find your thoughts wandering as you contemplate how you will respond. Staying in the moment is important in order to hear the entire thought your partner is sharing. Often we are guilty of this when trying to offer advice or trying to share an encouraging story they can relate to. However, you can actually give more relevant responses and increase understanding by staying fully engaged throughout the whole conversation. By not worrying about how you are going to respond, the conversation will flow more naturally leaving both partners more satisfied in the process.
3. Practice reflective listening:
One of the great things about getting married is that you become one with your partner. You live together, spend a lot of time together and know each other very well. It can be very easy to make the conclusion that since you are in love and know the other person so well you automatically understand what your partner thinks, desires or feels. However, this can lead to inaccurate assumptions and will result in frustration. Practicing reflective listening can help couples to remain on the same page. Replying with "so what I'm hearing you say is that...." after your partner has finished speaking is a great way to make sure you understood them and their intentions correctly. Practicing reflective listening and asking clarifying questions help couples to better understand one another.
4. Remain calm
Often when our partner says something that can make our blood pressure rise and we soon find ourselves getting defensive. A conversation cannot be productive if one or both partners become angry or annoyed. In fact, those types of feeling in a conversation usually make the situation worse. It is amazing the change that can occur in a conversation as we take just a moment to take a deep breath. If needed, take a little time out to allow yourself to cool off and think more clearly before reentering the conversation. Making an effort to be calm and positive in our conversations will go a long way to building a relationship of trust and satisfaction.
"One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say." ~Bryant H. McGill
Active listening will bring new life into your marriage. As you implement these listening tips into your conversations this week, your partner will feel loved, appreciated and understood. It is amazing how the tone and direction of the conversation can change when your partner feels that you sincerely are interested in what they have to say. So take the time to let your partner be heard!
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2014). Why marriages succeed or fail. London: Bloomsbury Paperbacks.