In our quest to maintain healthy relationships, understanding and effective communication are key pillars. Grasping the emotions and thoughts of your significant other and communicating your comprehension constructively can be challenging. Yet, it is crucial to nurture an environment of understanding and empathy.
The art of effective communication is more than just expressing your feelings; it involves actively listening and providing constructive responses to your partner. It is essential to remember that being an effective listener can often be more challenging than being a good communicator. So, how do you listen to your significant other effectively, comprehend their feelings, and communicate your understanding efficiently?
Three fundamental steps can be followed to achieve effective communication. These steps involve conveying your readiness to listen right from the beginning, responding effectively as your partner speaks, and providing constructive feedback after your partner has finished speaking.
1. Manifesting Your Preparedness to Listen
When people feel that their emotions and thoughts aren't being heard, they typically respond in two ways. Either they withdraw and disengage from the conversation, or they attempt to get their message across more aggressively. In the latter case, they might repeat their point louder or use more intense language, hoping that the message will finally be understood.
To prevent these scenarios, it is essential to let your significant other know from the outset that you are interested in comprehending their thoughts and feelings. You can demonstrate your willingness to listen in two ways: either by making yourself available when your partner requests your attention or by inviting your partner to discuss their feelings when they appear distressed.
Making yourself available involves eliminating distractions and offering your undivided attention. This could be as simple as turning to face your partner, establishing eye contact, and patiently waiting to hear what they have to say. Alternatively, it can involve more explicit gestures, such as turning off the television, putting away your phone, or moving to a quieter location where you can both sit face-to-face.
Your body language is a powerful tool that communicates your readiness to listen. Avoid portraying signs of impatience or resistance, such as crossed arms or an angry frown. Instead, relax your facial muscles, adopt a more relaxed physical posture, and lower the volume of your voice when you respond.
Inviting your significant other to speak when they appear distressed necessitates recognizing their distress in the first place. Their distress may manifest in various ways, including being quieter than usual, less responsive, more irritable, or more distracted. You can communicate your willingness to listen by acknowledging their feelings, offering to listen, and suggesting a suitable time to discuss the matter further if necessary.
For example, when Sara noticed that John was unusually quiet one evening, she tried to engage him in a conversation about their day, but he offered little in return. she asked him if something was bothering him. John then revealed that he had run into Alex at a meeting, and it was difficult for him as he recalled Sara's past relationship with Alex. Although Sara realized that further discussion was crucial, the timing wasn't right since their children were still awake and required their attention. So, she proposed that they continue their conversation after the children were asleep.
2. Responding While Your Partner is Speaking
While your partner is expressing their thoughts, it's essential to use your body language to show that you're still interested in listening. Maintain eye contact, keep your physical posture and facial expression receptive, and avoid signs of frustration, such as foot tapping or exasperated sighs.
Do not interrupt your partner as they speak. It's difficult to listen when your partner is discussing challenging issues or saying things that hurt you or that you disagree with. However, they are unlikely to listen in the way you want unless they feel heard and understood by you first. It's a two-way street, and someone has to take the first step to show a willingness to listen and demonstrate understanding.
Avoid preparing or rehearsing your response as your partner is speaking. This is especially tempting when you disagree with what your partner is saying. It's challenging to listen and prepare a rebuttal simultaneously, and your partner isn't going to feel heard if it's evident that you're eagerly waiting for your turn to speak.
Steer clear of challenging, judging, or interpreting your partner's feelings or views while listening. It's perfectly acceptable to ask questions for clarity, but it's not beneficial to challenge their emotions or thoughts. Avoid making interpretations that could change the meaning of what your partner has said.
As you're listening to your partner and before you respond, ensure that you understand their goal for the conversation. Are they looking to just express their feelings, or are they seeking to solve a problem or make a decision with you? If you're unsure, ask your partner to clarify.
3. Responding After Your Partner Has Finished Speaking
After your partner has finished expressing their thoughts or feelings, the best way to demonstrate that you've heard them is to repeat back the emotions or feelings they've expressed. This process, known as mirroring, paraphrasing, reflecting, or active listening, shows that you've accurately heard your partner's words.
A slightly higher level of responding involves restating your partner's thoughts or feelings in your own words. Paraphrasing not only demonstrates that you've heard your partner's words, but also that you've understood them well enough to express the same thought or feeling using alternative language.
Sometimes, your partner's feelings are only implied through their tone of voice or body language. In such cases, you might demonstrate your understanding by identifying the implied feeling. Checking in with your partner at the end of your reflection helps to avoid the appearance of mindreading or interpreting, and allows them to confirm or correct your understanding.
It's important to note that reflecting your partner's feelings doesn't necessarily mean you agree with them. It's simply a way of letting your partner know that you've listened and understood. In fact, it's crucial to reflect when you're about to disagree. Your partner will find it easier to listen to your point of view if they've felt heard and respected by you.
Interestingly, research shows that happy couples don't paraphrase and validate very often during everyday conversations. Reflecting and validating may not be typical during regular discussions when both partners already feel understood and content with their relationship. However, these techniques may be essential when communication difficulties arise.
Active listening through reflection and validation can be particularly helpful when your partner isn't feeling understood by you, when you want to ensure your partner knows you've understood before offering your own contrasting thoughts, when the discussion is escalating too quickly, when you're unsure about what your partner is trying to communicate, and when you want to keep the focus on your partner's experience.
Understanding your partner involves more than just hearing their words. It requires an active and empathetic listening process, engaging in a dialogue that ensures your partner feels heard and understood. Only then can we truly communicate effectively and nurture a healthy, understanding, and empathetic relationship.