How many times have you or your partner asked each other, “Did you hear what I just said?” or “Why aren’t you listening?” and had the response, “I heard everything you said.” The reason you asked the question in the first place was because your partner wasn’t responding appropriately to your message. You may have said, “I think we should go away next weekend,” and got back a reply of “Uh huh.” He may have heard your words, but his mind was elsewhere.
When you listen in an active way you make eye contact with the speaker and comment on the message or ask a question. Instead of focusing on the TV or computer and nodding your head, you show a willingness to participate in a conversation. If it isn’t a good time for you to give your partner your full attention, ask how long he or she wants to talk to you and then arrange for a specific time to talk as soon as possible.
When you are able to pay close attention, allow your partner to have the floor without interruption. If you are tempted to give advice or offer a solution, first ask her if this is what she wants from you. Maybe she just needs to vent and for you to listen. Often we just need to let off steam to someone with a sympathetic ear.
While you are listening to your partner, try not to think about what you want to say next. Too many adult conversations sound like the following children’s communication:
Child A: “I got a new bike for my birthday!”
Child B: “I’m going to Disneyland for MY birthday.”
Child A: “I’m going to ride my bike with my brother.”
Lastly, try to notice your partner’s nonverbal communication as well — her tone of voice, her facial expression, her overall body language. Do her specific words sound fine, but her face looks sad and worried? Notice and address all of your partner’s messages, both verbal and nonverbal.
Active listening is a vital and powerful component of effective couples’ communication. If one or both partners can’t share their thoughts and feelings with each other and be truly heard, often the relationship will suffer. This is the breeding ground for conflict, hurt feelings, and possible infidelity.
So train yourself to respond well to your partner, even if you’re not that interested in the subject at hand. Your sister-in-law’s cousin may not be the most fascinating topic of conversation to you, but try to remember the larger picture of your love and respect for each other and then be sure to show it!