Improving Listening Skills
in Your Marriage
I'm sure you've heard it said a million times that improving listening skills is important. And duh, yes, of course it's important! But... have you ever really thought about how to accomplish this?
If you're anything like me, listening to important people in your life (like your spouse) comes easily when the sailing is smooth. For example, when you're having a quiet, romantic dinner, or when you're snuggled up on the couch together.
But how about when you're busy, angry, or not really that interested in what your spouse has to say? How are your listening skills then?
If you answered, "not so good," then don't worry- you're not alone! Being a super-attentive active listener can be tricky at the best of times. But it's at the worst of times, when you don't feel like listening, that your spouse really needs you to listen to them, and it's at these times when great listening skills can really pay off.
Now here's the handy thing: the more you practice active listening skills in the "good times," the more naturally it'll come to you in the "not-so-good times." So how do you work on improving listening skills? Here are some tips:
Improving Listening Skills #1: Paraphrase What You've Heard
After your spouse has shared something with you for a few minutes, repeat the general idea back to them. This will make them feel very listened-to. For example:
"So you're saying that you're getting tired of calling your friends on the phone because not many of them ever call you."
Improving Listening Skills #2: Ask Open Questions
Your spouse will really feel like you've listened to them if you ask questions about what they've just told you. Only, make sure they're open (aka leading) questions, as opposed to yes-or-no-answer questions. For example:
Spouse: "My assignment at work right now is SO frustrating!"
You: "What's making it so frustrating? Who are you working on this assignment with? When is it due?"
Improving Listening Skills #3: Give a Feeling Reflection
This is similar to paraphrasing, but a bit trickier. Giving a feeling reflection is when you give a response of what your spouse must be feeling, based on what they said, and more importantly, on how they said it.
Not only do you have to listen to their words, but you must also pay attention to their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. For example:
Spouse: "The commute to and from work is driving me CRAZY... literally!"
You: "I hear you feeling frustrated and helpless at having to spend so much time driving in traffic, knowing that you can't change jobs to a place that's closer to where we live."
Improving Listening Skills #4: Stay Focused
You don't like it when you're telling your spouse something that's important to you, and they seem spaced out, do you? So don't do it to them! A few tips:
- listen carefully to what they're saying so that you will understand and be able to make thoughtful comments about what they've said (see above)
- don't check your watch (unless you really need to keep track of the time because you have an appointment coming up, etc)
- try not to yawn - if you really must, cover it up by turning around or bending over to "tie your shoe"
- don't interrupt
- make eye contact, lean forward slightly, and face the person who's talking
Improving Listening Skills #5: Grab a Pen
If your spouse is going on an on and you can tell that they're really in a pickle over something, grab a pen and take a few notes. This will help you keep track of what they're saying so you won't have to ask them to repeat themselves later on.
Agreed, in some situations taking notes of what your spouse is saying will seem kind of lame, so know when's a good time and when's not! The best time may be when they have a tough decision to make and are weighing the pros and cons out loud. If you take a few "pros and cons" notes, you can show them the notes when they're done ranting and help them make a sensible decision based on what they've told you.
I guarantee you that this will go over better than saying, "I don't know what to do... just do whatever you think is best!"
#6: Don't Overdo It!
Yes, improving listening skills is important, but use some common sense and don't go overboard with it! If you take the tips from above and go overboard with them, your spouse will think you've lost it.
Just imagine you sitting there listening, staring a hole through your spouse, taking notes like a mad-man, paraphrasing every few sentences, nodding your head like you're bobbing in time to some imaginary music, and making so many empathetic facial expressions that you're spouse thinks you're about to vomit!
Everything in moderation! Remember that you want come across as genuine, not artificial.
#7: Know Your Spouse
The more you get to know your spouse, the easier it'll become for you to "read their cues." In other words, you'll start to recognize the difference between when they really need you to drop everything, sit down, and listen to them, or when they're just saying something in passing.
This, of course, is part of the joy of being married - knowing someone, and being known better than anyone else in the world!
Improving Listening Skills continued...
It's quite likely that you clicked on this article because you're interested in improving the listening skills of someone else (eg- your spouse!).
However, keep in mind that the best way to do this is to first improve your own active listening skills. The person you are trying to "change" will likely notice this change in you, and will slowly model their own listening skills after yours.
changes happen slowly, over TIME.
The longer you grow together in your marriage, the more you will take on each others' qualities. So make sure your qualities are good, especially your listening skills!
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