The concept of listening seems to be easy, right? You just sit down, look at your partner, and keep your mouth closed and your ears open.
The fact, though, is that few things are ever as simple as one may think. That’s certainly also true in this case.
It’s not about just listening. It’s about listening well! In fact, really listening to our partners is a primary way to build love and respect in your relationship.
Believe it or not, listening does not just mean being quiet and hearing the words your spouse says. It includes being attuned, asking questions, empathizing, and reflecting back what you heard.
Marriage counseling can provide you with the opportunity to learn this skill of listening well. By conscientiously applying it, you can actually boost your intimate connection and raise your relationship to another level.
What Steps Must You Take to Be a Good Listener?
Every worthwhile endeavor starts with good preparation.
To get ready for listening well, you must put your own agenda aside for a while and shift your focus completely away from you and to your mate. They should become the center of your interest. Be willing to make a genuine effort to tune into your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, no matter if you agree with them or not.
The whole goal of listening well is to understand your partner. Really understand them.
Why the emphasis?
Because all too often we listen with the intent to respond, defend, or justify, rather than with the goal to truly understand—and nothing more.
How can you achieve listening with that type of thinking?
Consider some of the most important aspects of good listening that you can learn in marriage counseling.
Be Present with Your Spouse
Just be there. Just listen and tune in to their feelings. Staying in the moment with your partner, being present with them, helps them not to feel alone. There’s no need for you to take responsibility for their feelings, give advice, or do anything to be “helpful” to them. Your presence is what they can trust.
Ask Questions – Receive Answers
Asking the right questions is important. But so is taking time to truly listen to the answers. Don’t let yourself be sidetracked in your mind by what you think they’ll say. Keep an open mind, show respect and empathy, and avoid judging. Even if you don’t say one judgmental word, if you judge in your mind, it can show through your facial expressions, your gestures, and your tone of voice. Instead, explore what your spouse is telling you and wait to offer any kind of advice or suggestions until you completely understand the issue.
Simply Act as a Witness
An important part of listening is witnessing, reflecting back to your partner in your own words what you heard them say. Avoid taking their anger personally or trying to cheer them up by making them laugh. Don’t minimize their fears by reassuring them, rather find out what their fear is all about. In other words, avoid trying to change your spouse’s feelings or making them feel better. Remember that you’re simply an observer on a tour through your mate’s deepest emotions and thoughts. Take a cue from your marriage counseling sessions and be considerate and validate their feelings.
Read Between the Lines
To listen even better and understand more, pay attention to how your partner is saying things. They may not express what they’re feeling candidly. Tune in to the metaphors they may be using and learn to read between the lines. When you reflect back to them what they just hinted to in a more direct way, it expresses that you understood them.
Have Regular Conversations
Be aware of who your spouse must interact with on a consistent basis and how those people affect them. Find out what stresses your mate and what makes them happy. You can do this by having regular conversations with them each day. It will help you both stay connected and reduce stress from the problems life throws at you.
Give and Take
While you want to give attention, and listen well to your spouse during these daily discussions, don’t forget to take the opportunity to self-disclose as well. Your partner wants to know you and be part of your life just as much as you want to be part of theirs. So, don’t shy away from telling them your feelings and thoughts in return AFTER you have fully connected and listened to your partner. Communication is give and take. When you open your heart, your mate can see what you might need from them and, in turn, show you love by meeting that need. This helps you both avoid going outside your marriage to fulfill your needs and desires.
Of course, marriage counseling can help you if you feel stuck in a cycle of misunderstandings and conflict. But, why wait until something bad happens and conflict or betrayal create a chasm between the two of you?
Entering marriage counseling to learn new skills to keep your marriage healthy, connected, and intimate is much better than trying to repair any damage after the fact. Good communication and listening are some of the most fundamental and helpful skills you can learn. By learning to listen well, and understand more, you can avoid many pitfalls in your relationship.
Janie McMahan is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Austin, Texas. Contact her at 512-739-2494 for scheduling, or complete this scheduling form and you will be contacted soon.