Body language and unspoken attraction are exciting at the start of a relationship. But as you can probably imagine, those traits do not make for a healthy, lifelong partnership. One of the main reasons couples divorce is because they lost the ability or never had the skills to communicate with one another. Poor listening skills lead to the breakdown in communication in a marriage. "Active listening is, if practiced and mastered, the best gift you can give your partner," notes Irene Hansen Savarese, LMFT. Here's how to be a more effective and giving listener.
Keep an Open Mind
Don't judge. Jumping to conclusions or looking for the right or wrong in what is being said prevents you from listening. Think before you say anything in response, especially if it is an emotional reaction.
Make Listening a Priority
Listen without planning on what you are going to say in response. Let go of your own agenda. Be aware that you need to listen. Make eye contact. Pay attention by not looking at the TV or glancing at the newspaper or finishing up a chore.
Use the Feedback Technique
"Giving a summary or recap of what your partner just said is an excellent way to show your genuine willingness to understand your partner," according to Savarese. Let your partner know that you heard what they said by using a feedback technique and restating what was said. Say something like "I hear you when you say that..." Be open to the possibility that you didn't hear clearly what your spouse was saying, and give them space to say so if that is the case.
Pay Attention to Their Non-Verbal Signs
Be aware of non-verbal signs and clues—both yours and those of your mate. These include shrugging your shoulders, tone of voice, crossing arms or legs, nodding, eye contact or looking away, facial expressions (smile, frown, shock, disgust, tears, surprise, rolling eyes, etc.), and mannerisms (fiddling with papers, tapping your fingers). Over half of your message is delivered through non-verbal signs.
Understand What Blocks You From Listening
Try not to fall into these patterns of listening: mind reading, rehearsing, filtering, judging, daydreaming, advising, sparring, being right, changing the subject, stonewalling, and placating.
Focus on the main points that your spouse is talking about. It's okay to ask questions to clarify what you thought you heard. Make sure "your partner feels that you not only get what they are saying but why they are saying it. You need to make sure your partner knows that you really get who they are and why they think the way they do and that you respect and value them," notes Dr. Amie M. Gordon in Psychology Today. You can do so with feedback like "I understand why this is so meaningful to you" or "I see why that made you so angry." You can also voice agreement, like "That would have really hurt me, too."
Understand the Differences in Your Communication Styles
You may just communicate differently. Being aware can enhance your listening skills. One of you may often share because you want to give information or solve a problem. The other may tend to talk to connect with someone or to get information. Some folks talk more about relationships than others. You may be more concerned about details than your spouse.
DO NOT attribute all your listening differences to your gender—you're both adults, and there is a point where personal responsibility must take over despite any differences in your societal internalizations based off of your gender presentation.
Know the Difference Between Advice and Talking
Don't give advice unless it's been asked for. You can't listen and talk at the same time. Feelings are neither right or wrong.