Do you and your partner struggle with communication? Are you having trouble getting through to your spouse? Do you talk about the same issue over and over again? If so, you’re not alone. In our survey of married couples, communication ranks as the top marriage problem.
One of the first things I talk about when helping couples with communication is actually the importance of listening. Most of us do fairly well when it comes to talking. Some people can even come up with charts, graphs and long lists of why they’re “right,” but they don’t listen worth a damn. Listening is, in fact, the most important part of communication in any relationship. In the history of marriage, the ping-pong form of arguing, the back-and-forth of debate, has never resolved anything; until someone stops and listens, the match never ends.
Most of know that listening is important but why is it so hard to do? A common barrier to listening is that people feel that by listening and understanding, we’re conceding and giving in, ultimately losing power and control in the relationship.
Listening is Not the Same as Agreeing
When most people say the words, “Listen to me,” what they really mean is, “Agree with me!” How many times have you heard, “You’re not listening to me!” When we hear this, we often interpret it to mean, “You’re not agreeing with me!” and sometimes we’re right. That is, in fact, what they meant. For those of us with children, when we say, “You’re not listening to me,” what we really mean is, “You’re not obeying me.” And trust me, our children know exactly what we really mean when we’re saying it. So, the first thing we need to establish is that “listening” is not the same thing as agreeing, “hearing” is not the same thing as obeying, and “giving your spouse the opportunity to state their case,” (without arguing or interrupting) is not the same as giving in to anything. Listening is, actually, just hearing and understanding what they are trying to tell you. That’s it.
Why is Listening so important? Why does it make such a difference in a relationship? Because ...
Nothing is Ever Resolved Until Somebody Listens
Is there a topic that keeps coming up over and over again in your relationship? Is she still talking about that time you got too drunk back in college? Is he still talking about that time you talked to an old boyfriend? The reason for this is that the person who was hurt by the incident, never felt truly heard each time the topic was brought up. Over the 20 times you may have already talked about it, somebody may have apologized repeatedly, explained themselves, even promised never to do it again. So why does it keep coming up? Because the person who is still bothered by it will continue to bring it up, over and over, until they feel like you get it – not necessarily agree with them --- but truly understand how they felt/feel about it. They are waiting for you to have that “A-ha” moment. And you can never have that “A-ha” moment if you don’t listen.
So, if you’d like to improve the communication in your relationship and resolve issues in your marriage, take the time to truly listen and understand your partner. Interestingly, a pleasant side-effect of patiently listening to your partner is that they’ll be more likely to listen to you!
To learn more relationship skills using our online videos and downloadable exercises, check out our StrongMarriageNow System.
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, StrongMarriageNow.com
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