The longer you're married, the more likely you'll hear the phrase “You never listen.” Hearing is one of our primary senses, though we don’t pay much attention to it. Like sight and taste, we take it for granted until it’s interfered with… through a cold, a bad cell phone connection or deafness. Partly, we don't think of listening as a skill. Like eyesight or tasting, we don't know we can improve it. We just assume that we're always hearing/listening and doing a fine job.
I once read that the beginning of a new love relationship is like being intimate with a “Big Ear.” Your new relationship partner hangs on to every syllable and listens to every word you say. They are totally "tuned in" - and this is a turn on! This leaves you feeling good. Cared for. It’s in these moments of the relationship that we feel most connected, most heard and ironically most “seen”. If the relationship progresses, we feel accepted.
Perhaps we consider marriage the ultimate sign of acceptance. If someone agrees to merge their life with ours, despite our sometimes unsavory stories of character flaw or a life dramatically lived, we can put down the Big Ear and get on with the mundane tasks of day to day living. We float back to listening as we always have... only tuning in to hear, when the station is of interest.
Our marriage partner often does the same thing. Now, they listen with half the effort of the Big Ear. This pattern can lead to marriages that get into the poor communication rut. Maybe it looks like this:
- Everyone is talking and no one is listening.
- Your partner is talking and your interrupting.
- Your partner is talking and you’re thinking of “the right answer”.
- You’re scared to ask questions because you don’t know what to do with the answers.
- You take their words so personally it’s hard to listen.
- Your marriage partner is talking and you’re not tuned in at all.
We make mistakes and that’s okay because we’re all human. However, if you practice these Don’ts and Dos you’ll ultimately build your skill set and find connection in your marriage again.
- Focus on your answer.
- Try to shut down the conversation quickly.
- Personalize what your loved one is saying and become defensive.
- Hold your breath.
- Stare so hard you’re not blinking.
- Rush to fill the silence.
The good news is to be a good listener, you don’t have to know the answer or come up with an immediate solution. Most connection happens when you’re being the “Big Ear”.
- Slow and relax your body movements.
- Express curiosity “How was that ____ for you?”
- Offer words of understanding. “That makes sense…” or “I understand you could feel that way.”
- Take thoughtful breaths.
- Pause and allow 2 seconds of silence before you fill the space with words.
- When it’s particularly uncomfortable remind yourself that you are loved by this person.
What matters, is that both people in the marriage want to feel connected. They know they felt appreciated and accepted at some point in time and they’re willing to hang in there to get back to those old feelings. Listening is different than hearing. Enter these moments with the intention to hear. Get tuned in, turned on and watch your marriage connection grow.