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As humans, we’re wired to connect with one another. Since we don’t come with instruction manuals or the ability to read minds, though, connecting with other people can sometimes lead to miscommunication or hurt feelings. We all want to be listened to and feel like we are understood, especially by our partner. Learning how to listen to each other effectively not only improves communication, but it can improve your relationship overall.
It feels good to be understood. We all have fundamental needs, like the need to know that we’re loved and valued and won’t be abandoned. When we get out of the habit of listening effectively, though, it’s harder to meet those needs for your partner. When they reach out to you and you aren’t listening well, they may feel hurt or like you don’t care about what they have to say.
What gets in the way of listening well?
There are a few things that make it harder to listen well in relationships. First, the human attention span isn’t very long, and with how fast social media and technology move, we’re not used to focusing on many things for long periods of time. Slowing down to listen to a conversation sometimes feels difficult.
Feeling defensive can also get in the way of listening well. When we get defensive, we start coming up with counter arguments in our minds instead of focusing on what’s being said. It’s natural to feel defensive – after all, if you’re not on your own side, who’s going to be?
It’s easy to say something you’ll wish you could take back when in an argument with your partner. As a rule of thumb, it’s best not to say anything too serious (or upsetting) that can’t be smoothed over by your partner. Check out this blog post: 4 Things Your Partner Should Never Say To You In An Argument.
It’s important to remember that in a relationship, partners don’t have to be on opposite sides. Relationship problems seem a lot less daunting when you work as a team together against the problem, instead of against one another.
Often, communication strategies are focused on learning how to articulate what you want to say to your partner. Learning how to talk to one another in a relationship is only half of the communication equation – we also have to learn how to listen.
How can you become a better listener in your relationship? Here are 5 strategies to improve the way you listen:
When you’re listening to someone, curiosity can help keep you in a listening mindset. Instead of focusing on what you want to say or what you believe, look at this as a chance to learn more about the way your partner thinks. Stay curious about what is being said to you. Remember, that yours is not the only perspective in the world, and you may be able to learn something new here.
Listen to understand instead of listening to respond
It’s natural to feel defensive when someone is talking to you about something serious. Defensiveness doesn’t help us understand what is being said to us, though. When you’re feeling the need to respond, you focus more on what you’re going to say than on what is being said to you. We often think we can multitask, but research has shown that’s not always the case. Commit to one thing at a time. Listen to understand what your partner is saying before you even consider what your response might be. Definitely don’t interrupt them while they’re speaking.
Repeat their words
A helpful way to help keep you focused on what your partner is saying is to repeat what they’re saying back to them. Not only does this help you stay focused, it also helps clear up any miscommunications. You don’t have to put it into your own words – that can lead to further mental strain and confuse things. Repeating their words back to them is a great way to show them that you’re actually taking in what they say and working to understand it.
Ask lots of questions
Even if you don’t have a ton of questions, try to ask as many as possible. When you ask questions it shows that you were listening to your partner and you’re looking for more clarification or making sure you understand what they’re saying.
Practice validating your partner
Validating your partner goes a long way toward feeling comfortable and connected. Tell them how meaningful it is to you that they are sharing this with you. Let them know that their feelings are understandable. Try saying things like “That makes sense,” or “I can see why you feel that way,” to show that you see their point of view.