When was the last time you listened to your partner? I mean, really listened? If you’re serious about rebuilding your relationship with your partner, one of the skills you need to get much better at, is learning how to be a better listener. But, what does that mean exactly? Let me explain.
Being a better listener starts with understanding that there’s a difference between “listening” and “hearing.”
Listening is much different from hearing.
And sometimes when couples are struggling with their relationship that seems to have hit a significant obstacle they can’t move past, you may find that inadvertently one or both of them stopped listening and was just hearing what the other person was saying.
But just hearing your partner will never help you truly understand their needs and wants to the extent where you can meet them.
For that, you need to be a better listener.
You need to become someone who truly listens to understand rather than just hear without understanding (or wanting to understand) at all.
But what is the difference between hearing and listening?
Hearing means you hear the sounds coming out of your partner’s mouth but haven’t integrated it into your thoughts or considered what was said.
It’s like having a very superficial conversation about the weather.
You heard that it would be raining in the afternoon but at no point did it register that the rain was coming and could impede your afternoon plans.
But when you listen to someone you heard that it would rain and it registers that you can’t for a walk in the park.
You have both heard and listened to what was said.
Now, many women have this concern or complaint about their guys and the fact that they “don’t listen.”
And they often want me as a relationship coach to fix that.
The problem with that is that guys tend to struggle to understand what a woman is feeling for two reasons:
- he listens to understand enough in order to fix the problem – while missing the fact that “listening” IS the fix or solution to the problem, and
- listening to a woman opening up about her feelings, elicits an unconscious reaction (raised cortisol) as a result of a primal fear that HE is somehow responsible for those feelings, or worse, he has failed her in some way.
Consequently, when wanting a guy to listen, they will either 1) try and fix the issue or 2) shut down and become closed-off.
Women, conversely, have a completely different experience with long drawn out conversations, especially ones filled with feelings.
Talking about how they feel actually does the opposite than it does for a man, in that it reduces stress and organise her thoughts, i.e. helps solve the problem.
Not so for a man.
Talking doesn’t fix things – fixing something, fixes things.
So, women may enjoy a long conversation about a disagreement at work while a guy just wants the particulars (i.e. enough info) before giving you advice about what to do.
But, him doing that makes her think that he’s not listening and he thinks she’s too focused on the details.
In reality, however, they are both right.
She has the need to talk out the details to make a plan or just to get it off her chest, while he doesn’t have that need.
He wants to help with a plan, but she may not want a plan.
And because “he isn’t listening” she stops talking and starts getting angry about his insensitivity.
In turn, he doesn’t understand why she’s getting angry and taking his advice, so he also gets angry or withdraws.
If you want to be a better listener in your relationship, you need to start appreciating the reality that people in general, but definitely men and women in particular, are unique.
And it has a huge impact on something like communication.
However, by starting to pay attention to your partner and learning the necessary skill(s) to be a better listener, you’ll start to see real changes in the relationship and may even grow your relationship in ways you’ve never done before.
So, if you are the partner, at the moment, who is having trouble listening to what’s being said, then talk with your partner about the difficulty you’re having.
Set boundaries for yourselves so conversations don’t linger for hours or spin out of control when you’re not truly listening to each other.
Instead, make time to talk about an issue that needs to be discussed and also tell your partner you can talk and listen for 20 minutes only.
After that, you might need to take a quick break or wait until later to finish the conversation.
Sometimes this break also gives both of you the time to process what’s already been said and come up with better solutions.
This is part of what we call emotional management.
When emotions spin out of control in heated arguments, we definitely do not listen at all.
So, managing WHEN and HOW LONG you talk about certain things might help heaps.
Tell your partner that when you ask for a break it’s not because you don’t WANT to talk but rather that you want to be better prepared to listen to what’s being said.
But you need to have set that arrangement beforehand, not during the conversation.
If you can have a little break your mind will be better able to focus on the conversation.
And during the conversation listen to what is being said and don’t just listen to the first sentence and then start formulating your own answer.
Too often we all miss what’s being said because we listen to only the first sentence or two before starting to think about how we’ll answer or what we’re saying is right and what our partner is saying is wrong.
Doing this is a mistake.
Being a better listener requires constantly working on the skill of listening well.
And it goes a long way making the shift in your mind from only “listening to respond” to “listening to understand.”
Just having this intention from the outset will make a huge difference to your communication.
I hope you found this helpful.