Are You Listening?
Active Listening is a foundational key skill for a successful marriage that both partners should participate in. Active Listening creates a deeper understanding and helps couples empathize more with their partner’s wants and needs. Active Listening doesn’t mean remaining silent while your spouse speaks. Marriage is not a one-way street, and neither is communication. Miscommunication occurs when one partner remains silent and does not share his/her thoughts and feelings. Active listening helps partners clearly communicate with one another: I love you; I care about you, I miss you, I want to be here with and for you, I want to understand how you feel and what you are thinking.
Miscommunication can destroy marriages over time when partners are not heard, needs are not met and feelings are ignored. Three common questions I hear couples ask:
- Why can’t my partner understand what I’m trying to say?
- Is my partner really listening to me?
- Why can’t my partner just listen to me?
To answer these questions, couples need to understand where the misunderstanding took place and learn effective communication skills to ensure and determine whether the intended message you or your partner is giving is accurate. Some barriers to effective communication and ending patterns that damage your relationship(s) are:
- Preparing to Respond- We cannot be attentive to our partner when we are distracted by our own agenda, perception, inner thoughts, planning a response or making assumptions of what is being communicated by our partner.
- Mind Reading– When you or your partner assume what your partner is thinking, feeling or what they want. Mind Reading can lead a conversation to spiral downward because of the unspoken thoughts and feelings. For example, Sara asks Mike “Do you like this dress?” If Mike then responds with a non-committal “yes” because he is more concerned with being on time, then Sara may feel unhappy with that response because she thinks her partner does not like the dress, or thinks she is fat or unattractive.
- Two Topics– Limit conversations to one topic at a given time. Discussing two or more major topics, such as money, children, parenting, in-laws, and intimacy can lead to miscommunication and arguments. For example, if you are discussing your different opinions about money, and the other partner broaches the topic of “When are we going to see the in-laws next?”, your partner may feel ignored, that their topic was not important, and it may lead to the original conversation being unresolved.
- You, You, You– Criticizing your partner with statements such as, “You are so lazy.” (name calling); “You never help me with the kids.”; “You always think of yourself and never think of me”…These statements might have some partial truth to them, but your partner (and you) cannot have successful communication with criticisms and attacks. Criticism usually leads to the other person becoming defensive and attacking back. Therefore, the couple should work on discussing these topics without name calling and extremes (never and always).
Using effective styles of communication improves the probability of being heard and understood while creating a foundation for a successful marriage. Frequently, I ask my clients, “What kind of listener do you want others to be when you are talking?”. The answer leads to discussions between partners of how to listen and be present with each other. If your goal of listening is to communicate with your partner, “I love you.”; “You matter to me.”; and “You are important to me.”, then take the time to learn how to communicate that to your partner. This important message will bring you closer and help you feel more connected.