Invariably when couples come to me for counseling, one of the areas where they need support is in listening to each other.
Studies have shown that people think they are better listeners than they actually are. You may believe you are listening to your partner, but if you were to ask them to evaluate your listening skills, what would they say? The importance of listening in any relationship cannot be overemphasized, but in a romantic partnership it is the highest of priorities.
Active listening is about making a conscious decision to hear what your partner is saying. It’s about being completely focused on them without being distracted. When you are listening to your partner, they feel like they are valued by you. Good listening in a relationship keeps both partners feeling loved and cherished.
There are two types of listening- listening to respond and listening to understand. When you are listening to respond, you are just waiting for your chance to jump in and fix a problem, offer advice, or share something about yourself. When individuals try to “fix” other people, they are most often responding to their own need to influence. Couples who have participated in therapy together tend to be better listeners than others because they have learned to listen to understand.
Listening to understand is the most effective way to bring growth and change in a relationship. Good listeners refrain from making judgments and provide a safe environment for speakers. People who feel heard tend to be more open and are often less defensive. By listening carefully when our partner speaks, we’re telling them that we care about what they’re saying. It’s also important to remember that listening is contagious. When you listen to your partner, chances are they will be more inclined to listen to you.
The good news is that we can learn to be better listeners; however, listening takes practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
Here are Some Strategies for Being a Better Listener:
- PUT DOWN YOUR CELL PHONE. No, really. Put it DOWN. Your partner needs to know that they are the most important thing to you when they are speaking. You are not listening if you are sending a text message or watching the next funny cat video on YouTube.
- Listen for the FEELING your partner is describing having experienced in what it is they are telling you and acknowledge that you heard the feeling.
- Listen to know how meaningful or important what your partner is sharing with you.
- WAIT to speak up. Do not jump right in to offer a solution, your opinion, or advice.
I have over 15 years of experience of working with individuals and families, first in child welfare, and then in mental health counseling. I have a Ph. D in Counseling, and am an Interfaith Minister. I work with clients desiring to include all of the aspects of the self in therapy-emotional and spiritual.