I often hear partners complain of feeling “unheard” or that their spouse “just doesn’t listen.”
The truth is that most partners do not listen very well at all. I believe that most of us have good intentions but lack the skills needed to truly listen to our partners.
Start with the Goal
The goal for listening to your partner should simply be to understand your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and need as thoroughly as possible. That’s it!
By seeking to achieve this goal you can move past the many pitfalls of poor listening. Many people who struggle to listen well get caught up in the following scenarios:
- They listen to just get the interaction over with
- They listen to placate their partner
- They listen to find out how their partner sees things differently from them
- They listen to respond or debate
- They listen to invalidate their partner’s experience
- They listen to argue about the “facts” or details of a situation
If you find yourself “listening” for any of the reasons stated above, chances are you are missing a great opportunity to connect with your partner. To truly listen we must be capable of putting our partner’s needs first (at times) and seeing the strength of our bond as the priority.
Add in the Mindset
The best mindset to have for listening is this: At this point I am in my partner’s service. They need help and I can best help them by understanding their position.
Think of this mindset as clearing a path for understanding. Imagine how much easier it will be for you to truly listen to your partner if you don’t concern yourself with how you see the issue, what you think about it, or what you might need to feel better. The key is to focus in on your partner and provide the support they need to feel heard and understood.
How to Respond
Most partners love to have some reassurance that they have been heard and understood. One easy way to do this is by simply letting them know you have heard them and that you do understand where they are coming from.
Something like this would work: “After hearing about your experience I can see how things look that way for you, that makes a lot of sense.” Or “Wow, I had no idea that things looked that way to you but now that I know this it will help me be more supportive and understanding.”
You Don’t Have to Agree to Listen Well
Many people hold a false belief that we must agree with our partner to understand their position and to help them. Not true! You don’t need to agree with your partner in order to understand their perspective.
Think of it this way: The best you can do in most cases is to listen to your partner, understand their perspective, and be responsive to their needs. If you can do this, your relationship will grow stronger and closer. If you get stuck in needing to agree or needing to be right, your relationship will suffer, and your bond will become more strained.
Reach out for Help
If you have been struggling with communication and believe that not listening (or being listened to) is a huge part of your problem, reach out for help. Most couples have a very difficult time seeing outside of their own dynamic. Couples counseling is designed to help each of you understand how you can move differently to build a happy and satisfying relationship.
Couples counseling can help you uncover new ways of relating that can move your relationship from a place of conflict and disconnection to understanding and closeness.