Posted by: Debbie Loyd | January 9, 2012

Listening is More Than Being Quiet

Good communication is important to a healthy marriage. Most couples would probably say they would like to improve their communication, but they’re not sure how to do that. Essentially, communication can be broken down into two parts: listening and speaking. I’d like to focus this blog entry on listening.

Listening sounds simple but is actually quite complex. Most Americans are not very good listeners. We’re busy thinking about how we’re going to respond or what we want to say. We think of listening as a very passive activity. In actuality, listening is a very active process and is anything but quiet.

I would like to suggest 3 parts of listening*:

1)    Try to understand your partner’s point of view. It will probably differ from your own, and that’s OK. Listening is not a time to make decisions about who is right and who is wrong, and it is not the time to negotiate. It can be hard to listen to a perspective you disagree with, and you may feel defensive. Just listen; don’t defend. Try to picture setting defensiveness in a box beside you for a moment while you simply listen.

2)    Tell your partner what you heard him or her say. Sometimes our own feelings, beliefs, and perceptions can color what we hear, so it is important to make sure you heard correctly. You can repeat verbatim some of what you have heard or you can put it in your own words and then check to see if that is a valid interpretation. Avoid saying, “I understand.” Instead, tell your partner exactly what you heard.

3)    Encourage your partner to share even more. This takes a number of different forms. Sometimes simply repeating what we heard makes the other person feel supported and free to share more. Asking about or reflecting back the feelings being expressed behind the words makes your partner feel validated, and it helps them clarify for themselves what they are experiencing. This also builds intimacy. Don’t assume that you know what your partner means, even if you think you do. Assume the role of asking questions to find out what more you might learn.

Active listening is not about agreeing. It is about making communication clear and is about having a way to understand both person’s feelings or opinions so that a win-win solution can be made. Active listening is a way to use conflict to become closer together rather than farther apart.

*I would like to give credit to Dr. Art Ulene from whom I first got these elements of listening and from Dr. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson (couples therapists and lecturers).

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