Often the issues that come up with my clients stem from the arguments they are having in their relationship. And, most find, the argument was really just a misunderstanding and they missed their partner’s feelings or what they were trying to say.
I often say to clients “What are we typically thinking about while our partner is talking?” And the answer often is “What we are going to say next.” And unfortunately, this habit most of us have is detrimental to the well-being of our most intimate relationships. It’s no wonder we struggle to tune into our partner’s message and that we fail to connect when our partner needs it the most, without even realizing it.
According to research, frequent arguments in a relationship can erode connection and create overall dissatisfaction in our relationships over time. So, it benefits us to learn how to listen better and achieve better understanding of our partner’s experiences, and avoid one of the most common pitfalls in modern relationships
So, what can we do about it?
One of the most important communication skills to learn is: being a good listener.
Here are some ways to improve your listening skills and increase understanding in your communication with your partner and hopefully avoid most misunderstandings in your relationship:
HOLD YOUR AGENDA
Some of the ways misunderstanding happens is when we immediately jump in with our response, correct what our partner is saying or defend our side of the story. Instead, it’s best to hold your agenda until your partner has shared what they want to say fully and completely. As a rule for my couples, I say that listening to your partner fully does not imply that you agree with what your partner is saying. You each should get a turn to express your feelings and point of view. Holding your agenda and listening fully conveys to your partner, “I hear you and your feelings and thoughts matter to me” and creates less defensiveness in your partner and increases closeness and connection.
MAKE EYE CONTACT
Making eye contact conveys to our partner that you are actively listening and are interested in what they have to say. My husband and I would sometimes get frustrated with each other if we had our phones in our hands when speaking to each other. Admittedly, this is a tough one for me, as I tend to check my phone rather obsessively. However, my husband would say that it meant a lot to him that I would step away from whatever was happening in the so-called outside world or, maybe more appropriately, the internet world to make time to connect with him. And, it feels good for me too. So, it’s best to put away the devices, the laptop, the video game, whatever it is that may be a distraction and give your partner your full attention when they would like to share something and connect with us.
REPEAT BACK WHAT YOU HEARD
One of the best ways to eliminate misunderstandings is to repeat back to your partner what you heard them say. By doing this, we avoid misunderstandings and confusion, we give our partner a chance to clarify or say more to achieve greater understanding and we find out from our partner if we heard it correctly. You can start off with “What I heard you say is….,” summarize what you heard as best as you can and then ask “Did I get that right?” I cannot tell you how impactful this can be in practice. So often we assume we know what are partner is talking about and can be completely incorrect in our assumptions. We are so limited in our worldview and perceptions so to truly understand someone else takes patience, careful listening and frequent confirmation with our partner about what we have heard and understood. I will say from experience, this technique has been a relationship lifesaver.
By practicing these skills, we can, over time, learn to be a better listener and improve our communication in our relationships. As with anything, it takes patience and practice but is worth doing for the overall health and well-being of your relationship.
With love and support,
Photo credit: Melanie Bultez