One of the most important components to a healthy and lasting relationship lies in your ability to communicate within intimate relationships. When communication is lacking or where there’s a breakdown in the lines, your ability to connect with your partner wanes, and you can begin to feel frustrated, anxious, and alone. If this is happening in your current relationship, it may be time to take another approach to how you engage with your person in order to improve communication—and that may very well begin with the art of listening.
Listening Skills are Essential to Effective Communication
Communication is a necessary skill set in the human experience, and with personal growth on the rise like never before, more and more people are seeking opportunities to level up their emotional intelligence. Imbedded within the art of communication is the key ingredient of how to truly listen to the other person; not just to the words they are saying but to the thoughts and feelings they are wanting to convey. When you’re able to listen with your heart instead of your mind, it creates a safe space for your partner to be vulnerable and share more deeply with you—and vice versa.
Personal development guru Stephen Covey says that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak.” Most of the time what you are probably listening to is the running dialogue and critique that’s constantly going on in your head as your partner is talking. It can be easy to find yourself in a space of judgement toward the other person for what they are saying or how they’re saying it with their tone of voice, or maybe the internal voice of judgement is directed inward at yourself. It’s not altogether uncommon for you to check out while your partner is talking, and sometimes you even go so far as losing yourself in a daydream while the other person is speaking. Other times, you might be having thoughts like, “How should I respond to this?” Or, “Will they ever stop talking so I can respond?” When you make it all about yourself, it’s impossible to be listening to another.
What Happens When You Don’t Feel Heard
Thich Nhat Hanh has said that “a great deal of unhappiness is caused in the world because people do not feel listened to.” When you don’t feel heard, it can lead to several things that, gone unchecked, push the relationship to its breaking point. Not being heard can make you feel unsafe and, in some cases, it can lead to your feeling as though you can’t be yourself around your partner. If you’re not able to speak your truth and truly be heard by your partner, you might begin to pull back from the other person and even the relationship, causing even further disconnect. When you have the sense that your partner isn’t able to hear you, it begins to feel as though they don’t get you or that there is something wrong with you. This can take a heavy toll on your self-confidence, causing you to feel as though your thoughts and feelings don’t matter.
In your relationship, you and your partner each comes in with your own unique set of values, beliefs, and points of view. You both have an innate desire to be understood—to feel that they are being heard. Yet, as is often the case in the domain of emotions, you may not have been taught from childhood how to truly listen to one another, and this is where everyday communication in relationships can take a turn for the worse which can lead to conflict. You must learn to listen to one another if you hope to have a happy, healthy, and lasting relationship.
Another thing that can get in the way of having good listening skills is your need to be right. When you hold a righteous position that the other person is wrong in some way, it prevents you from being in the listening mode of whatever they may need to communicate. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no right or wrong, except in your own minds. When you can step out of your need to be right, it enables you to move into the possibility of hearing another’s perspective and softening into love and compassion. This is where growth and the potential for deeper connection and intimacy can be found.
There are two components within listening that can help tremendously; one is active listening and the other is reflective listening. Both are relatively simple to employ when you’re able to slow down, anchor into the present moment, and have the intention to hold the space for the other person. For this to truly work, listening in a relationship needs to be practiced by both individuals.
Active listening is an approach where you, as the listener, are completely focused on what your partner is saying with the intention of understanding their position. The objective is to support them feeling safe to express themselves when they have something important to discuss.
You may want to start the conversation by asking your partner if they are wanting to have a two-way conversation or if they are just needing to air some things that are on their mind. Active listening is a great approach for allowing your person to vent or “clear” a situation without judgement or attachment on your part, for the purpose of identifying what action needs to be taken at the end of the conversation.
Reflective listening is when you reflect back to the person what they shared using their own words for the purpose of enabling them to feel heard. An example of reflective listening might sound like “I heard you when you said that ‘whenever I don’t respond to a question you ask or a statement you make, you feel as though you don’t matter.’” This allows your partner to feel that their point of view is being heard, and it also provides them the opportunity to add more detail or clarify anything that was said, if necessary.
Here are five tips for how to be a better listener in a relationship by applying these two methods.
1. Be Present, Attentive, and Focused When It’s Time to Listen to Your Partner
If your phone is nearby, turn off the ringer or turn the phone face down so as not to be distracted. Give your partner your full attention by making eye contact, come to the conversation with an attitude of curiosity, and lean forward with your physical body to let your partner know you are “all ears.”
2. Approach the Conversation as a Collaborative Experience
This means doing your best to listen from the perspective of your partner’s point of view with the intention of bringing about a resolution. See if you can put yourself objectively in their shoes to help you better understand their thoughts, emotions, and perspective.
3. Refrain from Trying to Figure Things Out While Your Partner Is Sharing
If you find yourself thinking too much while the other person is talking, you may be trying to strategize the perfect thing to say. This will pull you away from being present in the moment with your partner. Practice just “being” and take it all in.
4. Don’t Take Things Personally
And let go of the thought that what your partner is saying is all about you. This can be one of the more difficult parts of listening because it’s human nature to take things personally—as if what the other person is saying is somehow making you wrong. Try to remember that your partner is communicating their own personal experience, which may or may not have anything to do with you.
5. Let Go of Any Attachments or Agendas
Whenever you are attached to a particular outcome, you can come across as though you’re pushing your own agenda, rather than being in a state of listening. You may find yourself in your own internal thought process of how you might regain control of the conversation or a situation, and this distracts you from hearing what’s being said in the moment.
It’s important to remember that we all process information and experiences differently. No two people view the same thing in precisely the exact same way, so there will always be room for contrast. This diversity among people is what creates texture in your interactions—both positive and negative. You may often forget—or you don’t realize—that you think and process things differently from one another, and that can create the idea of separation whenever conflict arises. Do your best to remember that you’re doing your best from your level of awareness and one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is the gift of listening.