One of the biggest and most common problems I see in relationships is poor communication between couples. To maintain a happy, healthy relationship, it is important to learn to listen effectively to your partner. This helps your partner feel respected and important and also helps to make sure there are no misunderstandings in the message they are trying to send.
Most of us talk more than we listen and are often either distracted by other things when our partner is trying to convey something important to us, or we are busy formulating our response while we wait for them to finish talking.
Many couples will have the complaint that their partner doesn’t listen to them. The response to this is usually that they are listening and they can often repeat word for word what was said – that doesn’t necessarily mean they have heard the message being given.
Important Points for Effective Listening
There are a few points that are important to help with effective listening and using these with your partner, particularly when it is something important to them, can improve your relationship. These are 9 tips for effective listening:
1. When your partner wants to talk to you, not just have a casual chat, it is important to make sure there are no distractions. When possible, make sure you are showing that you attentive through your body language. Stop doing whatever it was you were doing and face your partner with a relaxed stance. Make eye contact and show you are ready to listen.
2. Listen and don’t interrupt. Couples have a tendency to listen to the start of what their partner is saying and then either shutting off (yes, they’ve heard it before) or finishing the sentence for their partner because they presume they know what they are trying to say.
Allow your partner to finish their story completely before responding. Sometimes this can be frustrating if they take some time to formulate their thoughts, but it is important so that you have the full meaning before you reply. The end of their communication may change the message you were expecting to hear.
3. Focus on listening and don’t allow your mind to wander. If the subject is boring to you or you have heard it before, there can be a tendency to start wondering what you are going to have for dinner! Try and keep yourself focused on the conversation, it will pay off in the end.
4. Use body language and ‘listening words’ to show that they have your attention. Along with the eye contact, nod occasionally to show you are paying attention. Also using small words to show you are interested such as ‘yes’, ‘ok’ can help to make your partner feel they are being heard and will encourage them to trust that they can talk to you.
5. As well as listening to the words being spoken, pay attention to both body language and tone. These help give us a complete message and interpret what is being said more accurately. This is one of the reasons it is important to not have distractions and stop other tasks.
If your partner is saying that they are happy and everything is fine but they have tears in their eyes or are fisting their hands, then there is a good chance the words are not entirely accurate and you can explore this further with them.
6. Don’t allow your emotions to overtake the conversation. Try and listen objectively to what is being said without putting your own spin on it. It can be hard in a relationship, particularly when your partner is saying something negative, to keep your emotions in check so you can fully understand what they are saying.
This is not to say you can’t feel emotions around the subject, but trying to focus on the communication and get a clear message is difficult to do when you become absorbed in the emotions.
7. Empathise. Many couples struggle with this step. There is a tendency to try and fix, deflect or explain in response to a message given by our partner. This usually results in your partner feeling like they were not really heard or that you don’t care how they feel.
You don’t have to agree with them, but letting them know you accept what they have said, and possibly even understand how they might be feeling can go a very long way in keeping a conversation on track and effective.
Empathising does not mean you necessarily agree. It shows you have heard what they are saying and accept that it is real and meaningful to them.
8. Once they have finished speaking, check that you have understood the message they are trying to convey. Checking this out by repeating back to them in your own words, is a good way to make sure you have heard correctly.
Many couples get the wrong message and respond inappropriately because of this. Checking out eliminates this common problem and gives you the opportunity to respond correctly.
9. Respond to the message. Make sure you stay on topic and address the issue they have raised rather than providing an issue of your own.
Learning to listen effectively and give your partner empathy can be one of the hardest things to learn, especially when you feel you are being given a negative about yourself. Mastering this skill though can mean the difference between a mutually satisfying relationship and a conflict riddled relationship.