If you really think about it, when you are in a difficult conversation with your partner or spouse are you listening to understand and learn or are you listening to respond?
If you’re being truthful you probably said “listening to respond”.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this. This is quite common and one of the most obvious blocks to good communication. I see this in the majority of couples I work with in my coaching practice. Can you relate?
Most of us think we are listening when we’re really not. When you’re caught in tense moments of disagreement or more difficult moments of full out arguments you are likely just thinking about your response.
You and your partner disagree about something. You argue for your perspective to be heard without hearing what your partner has to say. You interrupt each other, talk over each other, tune out, judge, blame, and the big one is defend. Being defensive is a huge block to real listening and is a hard habit to break. But is not impossible to learn.
In addition to defending another thing that partners do that gets in the way of good listening is trying to “fix it”.
Instead of listening, which is what we all want, you or your partner try to come up with solutions to try and fix it. Really, all you want is for them to listen but instead they are saying things like “why don’t you do x” or “don’t worry about it” “you shouldn’t be upset about that”. And while it may be well intentioned because the listener may not want you to feel discomfort, it only serves to invalidate your thoughts and feelings.
Listening is such an important component of good communication. Without improving this it will be impossible to have better communication. Learning and practicing real listening is the best way to have a deeper understanding of each other’s experience. When couples improve their listening they improve their communication and their connection.
Here is an exercise you can practice at home. One of you will be the speaker and one of you will be the listener. The listener’s job is only to listen and the speaker’s job is to talk about an experience or subject they want their partner to know about. It can be about anything and preferably something neutral that the two of you have not historically fought about. This will help you practice the skill of listening.
As the listener you:
- Reflect back what you heard the person say. “So what you’re saying it’s really important that you get to the gym 5 times a week”.
- Ask questions to learn more, be curious. “What is it you like about working out?”
- Act as if you are a reporter, learning about something you know nothing about.
- Don’t try to solve anything or input your own perspective or thoughts.
One other very important shift you want to try and make when working at listening is to not personalize what your partner is saying. Remind yourself “this is not about me”. This is about my partner expressing themselves.
Remind yourself, your partner is a separate person and is entitled to have a different opinion. Focus only on learning about the other person’s perspective and don’t make it about yourself. When you are able to do this you are truly giving the other person the gift of being heard.
True listening is much harder than you probably think because it requires putting aside your own stuff so you can deeply understand what your partner’s thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires are. Working to understand their experience is real listening.
Listening is a skill you need in all relationships. If you’re working on your listening skills know that this will positively impact all of your relationships not just the one with your spouse or partner.
If you’re interested in learning how to improve communication with your partner schedule a free phone consultation today.