Often partners are convinced that they are excellent listeners. However, when asked, many partners are unable to give an adequate summary of what their partner was saying. Partners aren’t always conscious of their tendency to plan what they are going to say next.
Some partners are busy preparing a defense if the other partner is listing complaints or has been very upset. Here, the inability to listen redirects the focus away from the talking partner toward the listener, and the conversation becomes more about the listener’s point of view instead of the partner talking about his or her problem. Often this development will cause the initiator to get even more upset, and the conversation can easily develop into a back-and-forth, escalating argument about who is right and wrong and what the point of the discussion is.
In this article, I am going to highlight what active listening entails. If you find yourself thinking you and your partner have communication problems, and aren’t quite sure about how to fix them, I want you to know that practicing active listening can greatly improve how you communicate and will ultimately help your relationship.
- Listening is a relationship skill most of us haven’t learned. Active listening is, if practiced and mastered, the best gift you can give your partner.
- Listening is an activity where you are not just waiting for your turn to speak. This kind of listening means you are concentrating on and making an effort to understand your partner’s point of view and how she/he is thinking and feeling.
- Listening is an emotional skill that is a lot harder than engaging in counter-complaints when your partner lists her/his complaints. My best advice is to be aware of your best intentions and why the relationship is important to you.
- Listening shows you are engaged and interested in what your partner has to say.
- Listening also entails paying attention to your own and your partner’s body language. Eye contact is especially important to show you care. Reading your partner’s body language can give you clues as to how she/he feels.
- Listening shows you can manage your emotions and wait for your turn. Practice calming yourself by reminding yourself that this is more about your partner than about you. This is the ultimate gift you can give your partner when she/he is distressed. This should be combined with eye contact to show your partner that her/his opinions and emotions are important to you.
- Asking questions is a better listening tool than explaining what you think about your partner’s problem. A good listener knows the value of asking clarifying questions, thus helping your partner talk more about her/his problem.
- Giving a summary or recap of what your partner just said is an excellent way to show your genuine willingness to understand your partner.
- When you listen to your partner talking about her/his distress, you might feel a strong urge to fix your partner’s problem right away. However, offering a solution isn’t always the best thing to do before you have heard your partner out. We all know the frustrations when we are met with, “Why don’t you …” remarks before we are done explaining. This can show that the listener finds it hard to witness the partner’s distress, ultimately disincentivizing the partner from talking about her/his problem.
As an effective listener, you are able to help your partner discover her/his feelings about a particular problem she/he is having. When you are able to set your own emotions aside for the time being, you can rest assured that the probability of your partner being able to listen, when you have something to talk about later, will be a lot higher.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Irene Hansen Savarese, LMFT, therapist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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