by Joe Taylor Licensed Marriage Family Therapist
The majority of couples that come for marriage (or couples) counseling say they need to communicate better with their spouse. I agree. Even the best of relationships can benefit from some help in this area. I try to remind couples about the importance of really listening when they are having a conversation with their spouse. In normal conversation, we can be good listeners. Sometimes we can listen enough to hear what’s really being said. But often we listen just enough to start formulating an answer. In a difficult or heated conversation, it’s even more difficult to listen well. We can get emotional. We then react and move quickly to working on a response. When this happens, it makes me think of a jig saw puzzle that’s only half completed. You can see some of the picture, maybe get an understanding of what it’s supposed to look like, but there’s considerable detail that’s missing. When we react, often our emotions take over. Logic or reason flies out the window, and so the fight begins.
Really good listening is when we can listen to all that’s being said by your partner. It’s a good combination of listening without interrupting, without getting defensive. It’s just hearing what your spouse is really saying. Then once you have that clear, you can respond.
I like to teach reflective listening. That is, learning to reflect back to your partner as best you can, and as accurately as you can remember, what she or he has just said. Then to verify you got it right by asking: “is that right?” It’s been my experience that we often don’t get it right and the other person needs to repeat or clarify what they said. If the conversation is a bit difficult, then emotions can get in the way of hearing accurately what was being said. Our emotions cloud our partner’s words, or worse yet our emotions lead us to misinterpret what was being said, or the meaning behind the words.
Bottom line, listen well, reflect back what your partner is saying, then check it out to make sure you got it right. This will improve the quality of your communication and help you feel closer to each other.