You look for connectedness and comfort from your partner but all too often you find yourself feeling lonely or misunderstood. Chances are your partner feels exactly the same. You want to be a better listener but are not sure how.
You may have tried to address the lack of meaningful communication between the two of you but it led to more hurt. The distance between the two of you is growing.
If you leave things as they are, chances are your relationship will deteriorate. It is unlikely things will get better on their own.
It is better to address this issue now before it grows any bigger.
How can you bring the two of you closer together again?
Deep down you both want to feel heard and understood by your partner. The good news is that you can learn to become a better listener.
Follow these simple steps to become a better listener
- Next time your partner wants to speak with you, take out a pen and paper.
- As your partner is speaking, focus on listening and understanding. Put your own opinions and thoughts to the side. Put all your effort into listening as well as you possibly can.
- Take notes of what your partner says, if it helps you listen better.
- Ask questions if you do not understand or need to know more. Be very mindful that your questions take you deeper into understanding your partner, rather than arguing your point indirectly. If you manipulate the conversation, your partner will feel under attack and will either retreat or counterattack. As you are listening to your partner, if there is something that you want to address but it is not what your partner is focussing on, write it down and return to it at a later date. Now is not the time!
- After your partner has stopped speaking, let your partner know that you really want to understand and will summarize what you have heard in order to check if you have understood them right. Summarize what you have heard.
- If your partner does not feel understood, ask them to tell you more until they feel that you get their point of view.
That is it. You have given your partner what they need, listening and understanding as well as you can.
As you can see, you do not have to solve their problem. You do not have to solve the problem in your relationship, if that is what they have spoken about. You have done 50% of the work already. By understanding your partner’s position, you have opened up an opportunity for the two of you to have a constructive dialogue about the problem.
Chances are that when your partner feels heard and understood – you do not have to agree with everything they say, you are simply trying to understand their point of view – they will now want to hear your side of the story.
It is also possible they are not yet ready to hear you out but the more you practice the skill of listening to your partner, the more they will feel open to hearing how you see things.
You may also find that just as becoming a better listener takes time, it also takes time to find the courage to open up and share.
Some tips to make this work
- Choose the time wisely. Listening mindfully is not easy. If you are exhausted and almost falling asleep, reschedule.
- Choose the place wisely. You will need to be able to focus. A busy restaurant may not be the best place to try and listen carefully.
- Prepare your partner. Let them know you recognise how neither of you feel supported and how the distance between the two of you is a concern. Tell them you will try something new to understand them better.
- Do not expect immediate results – though they are a possibility. Practice and practice even more. Mindful listening is a skill that can be learnt.
- For now, refrain from giving advice unless your partner explicitly asks for it. If they ask for it, only give advice after you have summarised your understanding of the problem and they feel understood.
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Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.