One of the most important jobs we have when entering a romantic relationship is to be emotionally invested in our partner. To do so, listening has to be present and effective. Listening suggests investment and care for the other person. To begin listening effectively, there are a few skills you might want to practice and implement, remembering that effective listening requires persistent practice.
To be an effective listener, you first have to eliminate as many distractions around you as possible. Try to avoid times when you are likely to have distractions, such as when the kids are awake or times where you are likely to get interrupted. One major source of distraction is our cell phones. If you can take one message from this blog post, it is to keep your cell phone as far away from you and your partner when having an intimate conversation as possible. There is nothing worse than trying to engage and be present in conversation when someone’s email or text notifications are buzzing in the background.
To listen effectively, you must also learn skills to manage your emotions in the moment. Let’s be honest, this is a tough one. This is not to say that you should disregard how you are feeling. But, to really listen to your partner, you must be able to temporarily put your thoughts, emotions, defenses, and feedback on a shelf next to you for the moment. You cannot truly hear someone if you are more preoccupied with how you intend to respond and what feedback you have to provide them. If your partner shares something that hurts you, you absolutely want to bring this up to them. However, you should be able to work towards putting that emotion aside for the moment and hearing them out. Once you have allowed space for them to share, it is then your time to vocalize your response.
Throughout the conversation, you should be able to paraphrase what your partner is saying back to them to demonstrate you understand what they are trying to communicate. This not only avoids misunderstandings, but it also tells your partner that you are present and listening. Simply respond back starting with “What I hear you saying is . . .”
Another great way to demonstrate listening and attentiveness is eye contact. Although this can be hard for some, maintaining eye contact is incredibly important in allowing your partner to feel heard. This is just another reason you don’t want cell phones in the conversation. Look at your partner while they are speaking with you. Research suggests that up to 80% of communication is through body language, expressions, and eye contact. If you are not looking at your partner, you are likely missing much of what they are trying to say and the emotions they are experiencing.
Finally, to affectively communicate, it can’t just be one-sided. You can demonstrate to your partner that you are paying attention by asking follow-up questions and contributing further to the conversation through comments or asking for clarification. Communication must feel reciprocal so you will want to work towards adding meaningful responses aside from “fine” or “okay.”
All of these listening skills take time and practice. Life gets distracting and it is easy to be pulled away from conversations, whether it be from our external environment or a preoccupation with our own thoughts. The more present you are with your partner when communicating, the better your listening skills will be.
What listening skill do you find you struggle with? Does this align with what your partner might say about you?