As a therapist, I often see couples struggle with communication. One of the most important skills that can help improve communication in any relationship is active listening. Active listening goes beyond simply hearing the words that another person speaks but also seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them. It requires being an active participant in the communication process.
Research has shown that couples who practice active listening experience greater satisfaction in their relationships and have better conflict resolution skills. By using active listening, couples can learn to truly understand each other's needs, feelings, and perspectives.
But active listening is not always easy, especially when emotions are running high. When our partner comes to us with a grievance or to express hurt or anger, it's natural to feel defensive. We want to explain ourselves and make sure our partner understands our side of the story. However, this often leads to arguments and missed opportunities to make our partner feel heard and understood.
Here's a structured approach to help you practice active listening with your partner:
The Sharing Partner:
Ask your partner if they're able to hear what you have to share.
Use "I" statements to express how you feel or what you want.
Avoid blaming your partner or making it about them. This is likely to activate their defences and could lead an argument.
The Listening Partner:
When your partner shares with you, try to put your defences aside and focus on what they're trying to tell you. The next two steps should be done in order.
Use mirroring to show that you understand what your partner is saying. Repeat back what you've heard to ensure you've got it right. Keep doing this over and over until your partner feels you’ve got what they’re trying to say. Then you can move to the next step.
Validate your partner's feelings and perspectives by putting yourself in their position and looking at the situation from their perspective. This doesn't mean you agree with them, but rather that you understand where they're coming from.
Apologize if necessary, but only after you've fully understood your partner's perspective.
Remember, active listening is not always easy. It requires practice and effort, especially when big emotions are activated. By using this structured approach, you can learn to communicate more effectively with your partner and improve your relationship.
With practice, couples can learn to truly understand each other's needs, feelings, and perspectives, and resolve conflicts more effectively. With time and effort, active listening can become a natural part of your communication style, leading to a happier and healthier relationship.