Learning to Listen to Your Spouse
Communication is the key to a deeply connected and satisfying relationship, and yet so many couples struggle in this area. If you communicate effectively, you will be able to resolve conflict, express your needs and wants in safety, validate each other’s feelings, and experience a deeper love with your spouse. If you struggle in this area, you are not alone. Most couples who seek marriage help say that if they could only communicate better, their marriage would be better. It all begins with learning to listen to your spouse.
Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn
Just as communication is the key to a deeper love, so listening is the key to communication. Effective communication begins with each partner in the relationship learning to listen and listening to learn. The object of this article is to help you develop the tools that you need to be an excellent listener. One of the first adjustments to make in becoming an expert listener is to change your attitude about listening. When you are listening to your spouse, your attitude should be, “I am listening to learn all that I can about my partner, their thoughts, their feelings, and their perspective.” It is all about them in that moment – not about you!
How to Improve Listening Skills
1. Focus on Active Listening
Focus on actively listening by giving your full attention to the speaker. It is critical that you minimize distractions such as noisy children or pets, cell phones, computers, television, and all other technology as well. Sit in a “dyad” (the Love Recon term for sitting fact to face.) Make and maintain eye contact. Eye contact is extremely powerful and communicates feelings in a more intimate way than even words. Pay attention to the speaker. Your body language speaks volumes as well, so make sure that you are in an open body position, leaning slightly in to express interest, and nod or provide other non-verbal cues to show that you are engaged and listening. Don’t interrupt (see below), but also offer verbal clues that you are actively listening. These can include grunts like “uh huh”, or other similar sounds and one syllable words like, “really?”, “interesting,” “wow!”, etc. Be careful not to start giving your opinions, however. When in doubt that you can control the urge to offer comments, just remain attentive, but silent.
2. Avoid Interrupting
Always allow the speaker to finish their thoughts before responding with your own. It is extremely tempting to voice your own ideas and feelings, but when you do, you will miss what your partner is saying. Interruptions can disrupt the flow of the conversation and make the speaker feel unheard and not validated. Instead of being productive and relationship-building, interrupted communication can be destructive and detrimental to your relationship. So, unless the house is on fire or your partner is about to step on a snake, or there is some other life-threatening emergency, don’t interrupt!
3. Practice Empathy
Empathy is feeling what your spouse is feeling and entering into their world and their experiences. It means that you attempt to understand their perspective and put yourself in their shoes. When you do this, you will gain a deeper understanding of them so that you will be able to respond more appropriately. You will be able to share in the hurt and pain that they carry and thus help them to bear it or even to heal. Their joy will be doubled when you celebrate with them their victories and happy moments. This will take practice, but you can train yourself to do and it because you “get to”, not because you “have to.”
4. Avoid Assumptions
Assumptions should be avoided because they close your mind to your spouse’s thoughts and perspectives. They limit what can happen if you have an open mind. Believe it or not, there are outcomes that you may never have imagined! Stay open-minded and don’t jump to conclusions. You may know what your spouse is going to say, but you may not. It is disrespectful to assume that you know what they are thinking. Learn to listen without preconceived notions and you may be surprised by the outcome!
5. Improve Your Concentration
This was covered briefly in #1 above. However, it bears repeating once again. The environment for the conversation is critically important to effective communication. Remove all distractions. Technology is the main one that most couple deal with in clear communication. Isn’t it ironic that the devices that can keep us connected in some ways can also drive us apart in others? If you are a person who is easily distracted, sitting near an open window might not help your concentration level, either. Any movements caused by people, birds, or pets could interfere with listening to your spouse. If you are attention- deficit to begin with, this could be a real challenge. You can, however, with proper techniques, learn to concentrate.
6. Take Notes
Taking notes can be helpful with concentration and with recall of the main points later. Notetaking should not be used to avoid making eye contact or to maneuver out of a difficult conversation. If you take notes, simply jot down main points, and quickly return your gaze to your spouse.
7. Seek Clarification
If you don’t understand something that your spouse is saying, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. This shows that you are engaged in the conversation and actively trying to comprehend their message. Be mindful of your tone and expression when you do ask for clarification, however. You don’t want to seem to be condescending or judgmental regarding what they are saying. If don’t respectfully and a genuine desire to foster good communication, it can prevent misunderstandings.
8. Practice Active Engagement
When the speaker has completed their message, ask questions, provide feedback, or summarize what the speaker has said to ensure that you are fully engaged in the conversation. Try to use the same words that they used in your feedback. Listen carefully for their feeling words and key in on those. Feelings word can be things like, “It really frustrates me,” “The situation seems hopeless,” “It makes me feel like we’re a team,” etc. This also helps you to retain and process information more effectively.
9. Practice Mindfulness
Being aware of your own thoughts, prejudices and biases can help you avoid distractions and give the speaker your full attention. Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can improve your overall listening skills. You’re in a better space personally which helps you to get you mind off yourself and onto your partner and what they are saying. Also, practice being in the moment by avoiding multitasking. Multitasking just doesn’t work when you are talking about sensitive matters involving personal feelings and emotions. Mindfulness, not multitasking, facilitates good communication.
10. Be Consistent
Regular practice in using your listening skills takes practice – a lot of practice! It is important, therefore, that you make the effort to engage in conversations and actively listen on a regular basis. Like with any learned skill, you are going to feel awkward at first. Don’t’ give up! That is just normal. The more you practice, the more natural the skills will become to you, and the better you will become at understanding and responding to your spouse.
11. Engage in Active Listening Exercises
Simply put, practice listening. There are several exercises that you can do to improve your listening skills. For example, you can listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or TED Talks and then summarize or discuss what you heard. You can also try listening to music or watching movies in a foreign language to challenge your listening comprehension.
12. Develop Patience
Sometimes it can be a real challenge to listen attentively, especially when your spouse is speaking slowly or repeating themselves. It can be trying and difficult to you, the listener. Developing the forbearance to maintain focus and not miss the important details requires real effort. You have to remember that everyone communicates differently, and it is important that you understand your spouse and their communication style, as well as their personal issues which can affect how they communicate.
13. Improve your Vocabulary
Expanding your vocabulary can enhance your listening skills. First is empowers you to express yourself in more succinct and descriptive terms. You will be able to better express what you are thinking and feeling so that your spouse can get a clearer picture of what you are trying to communicate. Secondly, you will be better able to understand a wider range of words and phrases which will help you to understand what your spouse is saying to you. Some ways to improve how you express yourself are to read books and articles and listen to podcasts or lectures that expose you to different vocabulary.
14. Seek Feedback
You don’t really grow in any area of life without feedback. Take the initiative and ask for feedback from others about your listening skills. They may provide valuable insights and identify areas for improvement that you may not have noticed. Don’t be defensive but consider their opinions so that you can grow and learn to become an excellent communicator. Good sources of feedback are friends who value you and your marriage or like-minded couples that you meet, perhaps on a marriage retreat or marriage seminar.
15. Develop an Open Mindset
Approach conversations with an open mindset and a genuine curiosity to learn. Remember, listen to learn, not to rebut or respond. This will help you stay engaged and attentive to the speaker’s words, promoting better understanding and comprehension. You may be surprised by the outcome of the conversation. It could be far better and more fulfilling than you could havce imagined.
It’s Worth it!
Remember, improving listening skills is an ongoing process that requires consistent practice and effort. By implementing these strategies and being mindful of your listening habits, you can enhance your ability to understand and connect with your spouse. Don’t hesitate to attend a marriage retreat or get marriage help to improve your communication. When you experience the deeper, more satisfying level of love that comes from enhancing your communication, you will agree. – it’s worth it! Love Recon Seminars and Recon Coaching can help.
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