One of my best friends Meg is a counselor, and she's dang good at it. Not only that, but she's a good listener. A good advice-giver. And personally, I think she's good at everything. :) I feel like I've learned so much from her these past few years on communication and listening, not because she teaches it to me, but because she's so open about her own life and thought processes. It's truly refreshing, and her sharing today is truly encouraging.
Meg and Sam reside in Ardmore, OK where they enjoy their pup Tuck are expecting their first baby this fall. Sam is a pastor, and Meg is a counselor, and together, you can't find a more genuine, fun, talented duo!
You might be aware that you recently read a post on Lindsay’s blog about communication and listening. Well, here’s another. Why? The Sesame Street answer would be because you have two ears, one mouth, and you need to learn to use them proportionally. Reality says, though, that the imperative component of listening in communication cannot be emphasized enough. And, to be frank, we all could stand to read two (or fifty) blog posts about listening well.
We’ve all been there: talking over that same old issue with our partner for what must be the thousandth time...only to walk away feeling, yet again, misunderstood. “He doesn’t know how I feel.” “She doesn’t understand me.” “If only you could just see where I’m coming from.” As a therapist, I hear all of these things in my office. And, as a wife, I’ve thought them and said them.
So, here’s the thing, everybody. We are all really good at talking. In fact, we are SO good at talking that, during those moments when we are supposed to be “listening,” we are really thinking about what we are going to say next. Tense conversation or not, with our spouse or not – we do this in all of our conversations. This is not listening. This is getting a one-up on the conversation.
I’d argue that this is due largely to the fact that we have lost the art of listening. Listening well looks like putting yourself in the others shoes while he or she is talking, setting your own biases aside and truly trying to imagine what thoughts, feelings and concerns that person might be having given the circumstances. Or, even better, if we listen well, they might just tell us.
This is hard. This takes work. It is much more comfortable and easy to stay in our own shoes and word vomit accordingly. Sometimes our partner’s feelings DO NOT MAKE SENSE to us. Be okay with that. Sit in the tension of not being able to figure them out, and please don’t make the goal of your listening to “fix them.” No one is “fixed” by the dismissal of his or her experience.
So. We’re bad at listening. Does it really matter? The relationship moves on anyway.
I’m here to tell you: it matters. It matters if you already practice good listening in your relationships, and it matters even more if you don’t. I imagine you wouldn’t have to reflect very long to see how it matters to you in your own relationships. When we walk away from someone who genuinely listened to us, who made us feel heard and understood, it’s different. It’s better.
In contrast, think of someone in your life who doesn’t listen well. It won’t take long for them to come to mind either. Honestly, I don’t really like talking to people who don’t listen well. They don’t make much space for anyone but themselves in their conversations and relationships. Therefore, if that person is you or your spouse, you may be on a road that dead-ends in loneliness and frustration, lacking an intimate connection.
The road doesn’t have to go there, and, if you’re already there, you don’t have to stay there. There are very simple, practical ways to begin listening well to others – specifically your spouse. It will take effort, but the rewards are priceless. Below are some simple, tangible steps you can take into your next conversation with your spouse.
To practice good listening:
· Put aside your own biases and experiences
· Humbly attempt to see things from your partner’s perspective
· Hold your opinions and advice until they are requested
· Help your partner name any thoughts, feelings, concerns and desires that are coming through his or her dialogue
· Pay attention to how your partner feels as much as to what he or she is saying
Things to avoid:
· Thinking of what example from your life could best relate to the conversation topic
· Invalidating or dismissing your partner’s thoughts, feelings or concerns
· Offering unsolicited advice, opinions or judgment
· Attempting to multi-task when your partner is sharing with you (research shows that multi-tasking is actually impossible to do effectively)
· Assuming you already know what your partner thinks, feels or is concerned about
Listening well is hard. You can do it! For the sake of your marriage, you must do it. Listening well isn’t something that some people can do and some people can’t. It’s a learned skill. Good conversation is about sharing space and time for each participant to express his or her truest thoughts, concerns, feelings and desires. Good conversation – good listening – is healing. Healing in a way that only something as welcoming and unconditional as true listening can be.
Keep calm and listen on, friends.