When giving relationship advice, I usually write about what to say or what to do or what not to say or do in a relationship. Or changing the way you think. This article has to do with a really simple but key ingredient to a happy romantic relationship: the necessity to LISTEN to your partner.
Someone introduced me to this woman the other day. We shook hands and then less than a minute later, I had to do what I really hate doing—I had to say, “I’m sorry, what was your name again?” Tell me that hasn’t happened to you. It happens to all of us, and whenever it happens it makes me feel bad about myself, like I couldn’t even take the time to listen to the woman’s name and make a note of it in my head?
You’re not going to forget your spouse’s name (and if you do, you’ve got some really big issues), but not listening properly can get couples into real relationship trouble. Here are some specific non-listening issues couples have:
1. They talk over their spouse. When I get really excited or passionate about something, or I have a thought, I need to get it out because I’m afraid I’ll forget what I was going to say after the person is done speaking. So, I tend to talk over others, at times. I’m working on changing that, one because it’s rude, but also because I must sound like one of those guests on a TV news show when they have the two sides on debating an issue and it turns into a screaming match where you can’t hear what either is saying.
If you are having a discussion or argument with your spouse and you tend to talk over them, get out a pad of paper and write down what you want to say. It’s kind of like a presidential debate. You’ll have your time to respond AFTER the person is finished.
2. They only hear what they want to hear. This drives people nuts, and occurs frequently when dealing with an ex. There is so much defensiveness and negativity and resentment built up, that whatever the ex says, he or she can’t win. Be careful of this and really really try to listen.
3. They don’t ask questions. Often times, we don’t fully understand what the other person is talking about. It might be a reference he or she is trying to make, or it might be a confusing story. But instead of asking follow up questions, we just keep listening (which is good) but we brush over the part we didn’t really get and therefore could miss an important aspect of the story. So, if you don’t understand something, ask.
4. They fail to listen to the tone or to notice body language to get the real message of what the person is saying. Tone and body language mean so much more than words. They often reveal if someone is uncomfortable, or if they are not being sincere, even if they are lying. You can also see regret, sincerity, and authenticity. So, looking is part of listening.
5. They listen and then choose not to care. Let’s say a spouse comes home from a long, bad day at work and he says, “I would give anything to just get on the couch and order food and watch a movie.” Meanwhile, his wife has made reservations at a restaurant that has taken weeks to get into. Maybe she heard what he said and then said, “Oh, come on, once you get out you’ll be so happy you did!” Now, that might end up being true, but the point is, she didn’t listen to his needs. She didn’t consider what he really wanted.
In this day and age of constant information coming at us: television, radio, internet on the computer, cell phones, even video ads when you stop for gas, it isn’t easy to listen because I think everyone has forgotten how. We all gotten so bombarded with information that we can’t just take a breath and really listen closely to anything. Everything we absorb is a glimpse. Even this article. Some people will skim it so quickly they will only get about half of what I wrote.
But with the people we love most, and other relationships that are very important to us (meaning our ex’s) it is important to genuinely listen.
Listening to someone—I mean really listening, makes them feel heard, and that makes people feel good. It makes them feel valued and important and validated and cared for and loved. It’s OK to have quiet space in conversations, to just sit there and take in what the other just said. Even in texting, why does everyone’s response have to be so quick? We have come to expect this, and I think in certain instances, it is harmful because the listening isn’t there.
So, next time your spouse seems upset about something, or wants to vent, or even if he or she wants to tell you a really really great story about something that happened to them, let them tell you the whole thing uninterrupted. Sit there and let them finish. The laundry can wait. You can be a little late for something. Even your kids can wait a minute (that would actually be a good thing to teach them!)
Listening to someone shows them you truly care about their feelings. And isn’t that one of the most important things that needs to come across in a loving relationship? PS. If you feel like your spouse doesn’t listen to you, then send him or her this blog post to read!
Like this post? Check out my blog, “How To Apologize To Your Partner.”