Active listening can be very challenging at times for couples, especially during heated arguments. In the previous post, we focused on the steps to help you be an effective speaker. Now, we offer 7 steps to help you listen more effectively:
1.Remember that everyone has their own beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and “truths” regarding an issue or concern. So, when listening to your partner, get curious about their “truth” instead of trying to convince them that your “truth” is more “true” or important. More often than not, you’ll find you’re both saying the same things, just in different ways.
2.Remind yourself that you did not (and cannot ever) cause your partner’s feelings. Thus, there is no need to get defensive. They are just revealing and expressing their perceptions, feelings and “truths” to you. Don’t invalidate their feelings by telling them they have no reason to feel that way. The fact that they feel a certain way is enough for it to be valid.
3.Disarm Instead of Defend. Instead of reacting defensively, find some truth in what your partner is saying, even if it seems totally unreasonable or unfair.
4.Show empathy. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try to see the world through his or her eyes. Paraphrase your partner’s words. Acknowledge how your partner is probably feeling, based on what she or he said. Remember, understanding your partner’s perception and “truth” does NOT mean agreement on your part. You just want to make sure you have it straight.
5.Ask questions. Ask questions, if needed, to help you understand your partner’s perception of the issue or concern.
6.”I Feel” Statements. Express your own ideas and feelings in a direct, tactful manner. Use “I feel” statements, such as “I feel upset,” rather than “you” statements, such as “You’re wrong!” or “You’re making me furious!”
7.Convey Respect. Convey an attitude of respect, even if you feel frustrated or angry with the other person. Find something genuinely positive to say to the other person, even in the heat of battle.
Remember, we have two hears and only one mouth. This reminds us that we need to be listening more than we speak during discussions with our partner or anyone we are communicating with! We hope these help!
Saying that communication is the key to a healthy relationship is like saying that an engine is a relatively important part of your car. But knowing that and acting on it are two different experiences. If communicating well was such an easy thing for couples, then why do so many couples have trouble doing it?
The truth is that speaking from the heart is one of the most difficult things we do. This month, we thought we would share some healthy communication tips. We are starting with the role of the speaker, so stay tuned…the listener skills will be next!
1. Is now a good time? First, before you jump right into a discussion, we recommend that you check in with your partner to see if it’s a good time to talk. For example, if your partner just finished a 12 hour shift at work, it’s probably not the best time for a serious chat. Just because something is eating at you does not mean your partner is up for discussing it at that very minute. That doesn’t mean you should wait until your partner takes a day off from work to talk. Just let your partner settle in a bit and let them know you have something you want to talk about.
2. Focus on ONE issue or concern at a time. Often people start with one issue and then start adding in other issues including things from the past that are sometimes not even related to the main issue. Be careful and mindful of this…it’s a very slippery slope. When you start bringing up issues from the past, especially if they had been resolved, you’re not working toward solving the problem. You’re working toward trying to be right. You have to ask yourself whether it is more important for you to be right or to solve the problem. Most of the time, these are two different experiences.
3. If the issue or concern has to do with your partner, focus on their behavior that is problematic. Please do not attack them as a person. After all, if your partner was so bad, why are you together?
4. Concisely describe the event. Use the video camera check and avoid assumptions and your perceptions. A video camera only picks up behaviors and words…not assumptions. For example, say “When I saw your dirty socks on the floor this morning…”; instead of “You lazy SOB! You left your socks on the floor again? I know you are doing it on purpose just to piss me off!”
5. Use “I statements”. This allows you to own your feelings and decreases the chance of your partner becoming defensive. For example, say “I felt ______ when you said or did________.”; instead of “YOU made me so (angry, sad, etc)!” No one “makes” you angry. You make a choice if your partner does X, you’re going to be angry. And being angry never solves anything. Ditch the anger and get to the heart of the disagreement instead.
6. Make a request for change, not a demand. For example, say “You know I have an issue with people leaving dirty socks on the floor, so could you please work on remembering to put them in the laundry basket instead?”
Remember, by communicating your viewpoint the right way, you can actually convey how you feel in a way that can lead to solving the issue instead of escalating it to become a bigger one!