Have you ever been accused of not listening to your partner? Or do they get frustrated with you because you never understand them? Perhaps you’ve been told that there’s no point in talking to you because you are only interested in putting your views across.
If this sounds like you then maybe you need some tips on how to listen to your partner better in a relationship.
The thing is, we all think we make good listeners, but really listening to a person is much harder than you think. You might be shocked to learn that studies suggest that people only remember around 25% to 50% of what they hear.
That means when you speak to someone they are only retaining up to 50% of what you are saying to them.
So what is going on? Why are we not taking in the information that we are hearing?
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Well, here are a few theories.
How many of us are already formulating our response in a conversation, even when a person is still talking? So how can we possibly be listening to that person when we are thinking about what we are going to say to them?
I know, I’ve done it myself. A friend is telling me about an experience they had and instead of focusing my attention on her story, I am racking my own thoughts to come up with a similar experience to share with her.
When I find one I am so excited to tell her it is as if her story was meaningless.
Then there is my partner, a wonderful guy who I love dearly. The problem is that sometimes when I start talking I just want to vent and have a good old moan about a situation. But, because he’s a guy that loves me, he wants to solve my worries so he’ll come up with possible solutions.
That’s not what I want from him at that moment. I only want to be heard.
I also have triggers from previous relationships that I have had to learn to acknowledge. I was in a controlling relationship many years ago where I was criticized for my clothing, my appearance, my financial status, and even the way I cleaned the apartment.
Now, even after decades, I still find it extremely difficult to take constructive criticism and immediately go on the defensive. I don’t hear what is being said at this moment in time. I don’t take on my partner’s point, instead, I am transported back to that toxic relationship and respond accordingly.
Then there’s trying to listen to someone with opposing views. If the subject is particularly emotive how do you reign in your feelings for long enough to listen to your partner?
The simple answer is that becoming a better listener is not easy. Effective listening used to be seen as a relatively passive skill; one where you would benignly receive information so that you could process it.
These days this is not the case. Although regarded as a ‘soft skill’ active listening takes focus, concentration, and practice.
You might think that practicing to be a better listener is all New Age mumbo jumbo and you know exactly how to listen.
But before you dismiss this article, think about what we use communication for.
We talk to express ourselves, our ideas, our worries, our dreams, our identity and so much more. When we really listen to our partners we can understand them more. It makes the relationship grow healthily.
Imagine if you had so much to say to your partner and they were not actively listening to you? Wouldn’t the relationship be in trouble after a while?
That is why it is so important to learn how to be an active listener.
So that’s why we should try to be better listeners, now here is how we can be.
This is easier than it sounds. You might have a thousand things going through your mind; what to make for dinner, that project you need to finish before the weekend, the latest soap storyline, etc. But empty your mind of all distractions. After all, how would you like it if you had something important to say and didn’t have your partner’s full attention?
One common complaint amongst couples in relationships with communication issues is that one of them doesn’t feel heard. A lot of communication is conducted through body language. So don’t sit with your arms folded across your chest. Instead, mirror their body language. It will allow them to relax, open up and talk more freely. This is because we subconsciously mirror the actions of people we like. So by mirroring your partner you are enabling a natural rapport.
It is perfectly fine to ask questions if you don’t understand, or to seek clarification, but try and learn not to interrupt with your own stories or experiences. You might want to put your own point across in your own words, but now is the time to listen to what your partner is saying. You will have a chance to speak and respond, just not right now.
You might think this is pretty obvious, but in the heat of the moment, the actual topic can get lost amongst insults and heightened emotions. Have they come to you with a problem in the relationship? Is it something you have done? Is it a good or a bad thing they want to discuss? Getting to the crux of the matter is crucial to understanding it.
Now identify the emotion of the conversation. Are they angry, frustrated, sad, feeling hopeless, or nervous? What are their thoughts and feelings on the matter? Knowing how your partner is feeling will allow you to respond more appropriately. If your partner feels they are upset, comfort them, if they are anxious, reassure them, etc.
At this stage, although it is important to acknowledge your own feelings, remember you are still in the active listening part of this communication. Being a good listener means that at this stage, the conversation is not about you or what you are feeling right now. You are still in the information-gathering phase. Of course, if the subject is highly emotive this is going to be difficult. Remember, however, you will get your chance to respond.
Once your partner has finished speaking, now is a good time to reiterate what you think they are saying. For example, “So you have said that you are unhappy because I don’t make your parents feel welcome when they visit, is that right?” Or, “I understand that you are upset about my ex-boyfriend flirting with me on Facebook.”
Asking questions means that you understand their point of view and want to continue pursuing this topic to get it resolved. Make sure you ask the right kind of questions, however. Open-ended questions encourage further dialogue. Examples of open-ended questions are: “Tell me about…” “Why do you think that…” “What made you come to that conclusion?” They start with what, why, who, where, describe, tell me, etc.
When you are asking questions and furthering the dialogue it is important not to use words like ‘never’ and always’ in your conversation. E.g., “You never take out the trash when I ask you.” Or “You are always playing video games when I need help with the kids.” Instead, use the X, Y, Z technique: When you do X in situation Y I feel Z.
There’s a difference between having a conversation and having a debate. A debate is where two parties have differing opinions and try to convince the other side that they are right. One side will speak and put forward their argument and then it is the other side’s turn. You’ll know if the conversation is turning into a debate if you hear words like: “Yes, but…” or “That’s fine, but…”
Empathy is much underrated these days, but putting yourself in your partner’s shoes lets you see things from their perspective. Try listening to what your partner is saying and understanding things from their point of view. Instead of immediately getting defensive or formulating your reasons or excuses, stop for a second and look at the situation from their side.
We all have triggers and baggage from previous relationships or our family life. We can’t help but bring these things with us into a conversation. You might be discussing a topic that has painful memories for you, or one that you have no sympathy for. Or you may be talking about a situation you vehemently disagree with. To be a good listener you need to put aside your opinions for the time being and respect the views of your partner.
It is human nature to want to be right all the time. Ex-CIA undercover agent Amaryllis Fox said in an interview that she learned two important lessons during her time as an agent:
“Everybody believes they are the good guy.”
“The only real way to disarm your enemy is to listen to them.”
No one is right, or ‘the good guy’ all the time. Keeping this in mind helps you become a better listener.
When a person is really being listened to it has a calming effect on that person. I remember one occasion when I was in the middle of an argument with a flatmate and he had finished what he wanted to say. Then he told me that he didn’t want to discuss the situation any further. I felt like I was going to explode with rage. It was the only time in my life I had felt such anger, and it was because I was not being heard. So polishing up your listening skills can help in many types of relationships.
This is probably the most important part of the dialogue. Sometimes, and this is frequently true of women, all they want to do is talk about the events of their day. They want understanding from someone who is listening. They are not asking for solutions or your opinions on the matter. They simply need to vent it all out and your job is to listen. On the other hand, your partner might want your advice. Always ask, don’t assume.
Give your partner your full and undivided attention. Adopt an open body language posture that encourages communication. Listen right up to the end of what your partner wants to say. Don’t be tempted to interrupt mid-sentence. And don’t start formulating your response as they are talking. Concentrate on what they are saying, paying attention to their emotional state. Then paraphrase back to them what you think they are trying to communicate.
Listening involves hearing the words someone says, a person’s body language, and the tone of their voice. What are they actually saying to you? Is their body tense, closed off, fidgeting, or is it open and relaxed? What is the tone of their voice like? Is it higher than normal? Look for differences in how they act in daily life to when they are agitated or happy.
It depends on several factors, for example, are you living together, is it a long-distance relationship, and is the relationship fairly new or established? Generally speaking, couples should communicate daily, and of course, much more often if they live together. If it is a long-distance relationship then regular communication is even more important.
Men like direct talk with clear instructions. They are problem-solvers, so a good way to communicate your needs to a man is to present them with a problem. Don’t expect your guy to mind-read or be proactive about certain things, especially household chores. Ask that he does his share. If he doesn’t, don’t use ‘You’, say ‘I’ instead. For instance, instead of ‘You don’t clear up when I ask you to,’ say ‘I get upset when the house is a mess and I have asked for help.’
Apart from the obvious, such as cheating, abuse, or coercive controlling behavior, not being able to communicate properly with your partner can ruin relationships. A key to good communication is to have good listening skills. This allows your partner to express themselves. So if you do have problems, you can work together to resolve them.
For me, developing good listening skills is an essential part of growing with your partner. It promotes a greater intimacy which leads to a stronger bond, and that can only be a good thing.