”You’re not listening to me!” A wife complains that her husband hears her but does not listen. As a marriage counselor and couples therapist I hear this complaint all the time from both the husband and the wife.
A failure to listen creates deep issues in a relationship. Listening is such a critical component of a healthy marriage. Yet it is something that many of us struggle with.
How should we define active listening? What are some of the things we should avoid if we want to listen to our partners?
Active Listening: Dos
Curiosity signals to the other person that you’re interested and intrigued. When you are present the other person gets a sense that your undivided attention is on them.
Active listening is about understanding. It’s so important your spouse feels understood, even if you disagree. Active listening involves a process of asking for feedback.
You have to check in with your spouse to ensure that you are getting it. Asking questions like, “Am I understanding you?” or “Did you mean this?” are important.
Listening can be difficult at an emotional level. Your spouse may share something that offends or upsets you. If you get upset or interrupt, you may have to apologize and seek to repair the conversation.
Sometimes you’ll get distracted or lose focus. It’s important to acknowledge these and reconnect with your partner.
The Gottman Institute uses a helpful metaphor to describe active-listening. The speaker in a conversation is a train, going in a specific direction. The listener should not see themselves as the conductor. They should inhabit the role of the passenger. The speaker is in control, not the listener. The listener follows the speaker on their unique journey, at their own pace.
We have one mouth and two ears because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. It’s important to be mindful of how much you‘re speaking during a conversation. If you’re used to talking a lot or getting the last word, practice being quiet and reflect.
Active Listening: Don’ts
There are some "don'ts" in communication that are explored in marriage counseling and couples therapy. One of these "don'ts" is don’t try to guess what your partner is going to say. That’s not listening. If you plan how you are going to respond you’ll miss what your partner is actually saying.
Listening requires a loss of temporary control. Active listening is about connection, not control.
Don’t try to fix anything. Husbands are notorious for this approach. If your wife wants your advice she’ll let you know.
More often than not, your partner wants to vent and feel validated rather than looking for a solution.
It’s impossible to listen to your partner when you’re also scrolling through social media. Beware of digital distractions.
Multi-tasking does not go well with active-listening. Try to look your partner in the eye or hold their hand when listening. Try your best to provide your undivided attention.
You’ll likely talk to your spouse about something that can be challenging for you. It is easy to misinterpret what they say and get defensive. When this happens you could shut down or attack the other person.
You don’t have to be a robot. You get to have an emotional response, even when it is negative. The key is to stay present and not lose sight of the goal: understanding.
Active Listening and Therapy
Marriage counselors and couples therapists are professionals trained in active-listening. This is a skill we use as marriage counselors and couples therapists. Ans it is a skill we can teach couples to use. One of the benefits of marriage counseling and couples therapy is learning the skills and techniques of listening.
Sometimes you need a third party to help you communicate what you need to say. A marriage counselor and couples therapist can be a mediator that facilitates listening between a couple. Investing in a quality marriage counselor or couples therapist is an investment in your marriage and your family as a whole.
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Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Serving Katy, Tx & The Houston Area
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About the Author
If you're ready to start your healing journey in marriage counseling or couples therapy, you can call us at 346-202-4662 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.