How to Become a Better Listener

You need to communicate well for your marriage (or any relationship for that matter) to have a fighting chance. One of the hardest parts of communication - and the one that most of us fumble - is listening.
Keep in mind there's a big difference between hearing and listening. The distinction is simple. Hearing means you've recognized sounds. Listening means you've recognized sounds and can interpret them to understand what the other person is actually saying. You might think you're listening when you're just hearing your partner.

Husbands and wives the world over are nodding in agreement right now. Frustrated you're not listening to each other? Well, stop the insanity and become a better listener now. Here's how:

1.  Get rid of distractions.

When you're talking with your spouse, provide your undivided attention. For starters, shut off the TV and your phone and the computer. If you can, go for a walk in park or natural setting, so neither of you will be distracted. This is a demonstration of basic manners, but it also makes it more likely that you will be able to listen to one another.  

2.  Focus on what your spouse is saying.

How many times has your spouse begun to talk, and you've zoned out? Probably a lot. Many of us start thinking about what we're going to eat for dinner or the to-do list that is constantly running in our head. If we're fighting, we usually start to form our rebuttal and never listen to what our spouse is saying. When you notice yourself drifting in thought, bring yourself back. Concentrate on the words your spouse is saying. Pay attention to them. 

3.  Put yourself in the other person's shoes.

This is decidedly difficult. But you have to try and imagine what your spouse is going through and from where his or her perspective is coming. Putting yourself in your spouse's shoes is most important when you disagree with each other. You need to truly understand your spouse's position. You may still agree to disagree, but listening to one another is the only way you'll be able to get past it without having resentment build. Doing this also allows you to feel empathy for the other person and his or her situation. 

4.  Stop talking.

Most of us never listen because we're doing all the talking - or planning in our head what we'll say next. Train yourself to keep quiet while someone else is speaking. Refrain from talking over the other person or interrupting. Each of you should have a fair amount of time to say your piece. This one goes back to kindergarten. Learn to wait your turn to speak. 

5.  Repeat what you heard.

So, you've paid attention, kept your focus, and are certain you've truly listened to your spouse. Now, you have to prove it. Repeat out loud what he or she said to make sure you understood correctly. If not, then have your spouse reiterate and repeat it again, until you get it right. He or she should be willing to do the same for you. 

6.  React appropriately and without judgment.

Marriage should be a safe haven for expressing yourself. In other words, you should be unafraid to share with your husband or wife. One way to build trust and create an environment ripe for dialogue is to react appropriately to what you are listening to. For instance, if your spouse is crying because he misses his late father, give him a hug. Don't laugh at him for crying. Never belittle dreams or make your spouse feel small for something he or she shares with you. Whether you mean to or not, you will cause a breakdown in communication if you aren't supportive. 

7.  Be aware of your body language.

Your body sends messages even if you're not saying a word. Active listeners have an open stance, never wear facial expressions of boredom or shock,  and lean forward to show they are intent on listening. Giving yourself a lesson on body language in love versus body language in an argument wouldn't hurt either. 

8.  Practice your listening skills.

Like anything else, listening requires practice. Besides repeating what you hear to your partner, you can take on other exercises, such as relishing silence for 3 minutes per day, and appreciating common sounds, such as your spinning drier, according to sound expert Julian Treasure's TED Talk. He also reminded listeners of his talk that we spend 60 percent of our time "listening," but we only retain 25 percent of what we hear. Talk about a scary statistic for marriage!

So, to make your marriage stronger, learn how to listen. It won't just make your personal relationship better, but it could improve everything else in your life. "Conscious listening," says Treasure, "creates understanding." 


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Love Magazine: How to Become a Better Listener
How to Become a Better Listener
Love Magazine
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