What is the secret of why some marriages succeed and others end in divorce?
The most reliable indicator of which couples will be happy, connected and in stay in love is how well they communicate. Of course, you need to be able to tell your partner how you’re feeling and be honest about problems that come up but perhaps, more importantly, you need to be a good listener too.
Sounds easy? Well it’s not as easy as you might think…
There are four reasons why you might find it hard and be asking: help me be a better listener. I’ve also got a video on Reflective Listening which is a technique to revolutionise how you are your partner communicate.
1. When your partner is talking you are busy rehearsing your answer
You’ve got a lot to say and if only you can find the killer phrase you’ll make your partner see the light. So you’re only half listening or you’ve grabbed onto one thing your partner has said and you’re getting ready to rebut it. In fact, you’re so ready you’re going to interrupt him or her right now…
2. You are discounting what he or she is saying
You are listening but you’re putting mental brackets round what’s being said. For example, your partner tells you: I’m really upset because you couldn’t be bothered to pick up my dry cleaning, like you promised.
So what happens when you hear this statement? It’s not that you couldn’t be bothered but you were kept late by an important phone call and you didn’t promise, you said you’ll try. So the brackets are ‘I’m really upset (you couldn’t be bothered) to pick up my dry cleaning (like you promised).
You’ve taken away that you partner does not feel a priority in your life and believes you’ve broken your word. Instead, he or she is OBSESSED with something as petty as dry cleaning.
3. You are running your own scripts in your head
You are going back to last time the two of you had a row and dreading the fall out—which is making you shut down rather than truly listen. It could even be reinforcing a message from your childhood (perhaps from your mother or father or a previous relationship): you always let me down or you get nothing right or you can’t even do this one simple thing.
So you’re reacting not just to what your partner is saying now but all the rows that two of you have had plus all the messages in your head—which could easily be out of date.
So want help to be a better listener? I’ve got three pieces of advice.
1. Imagine every word is true
From where your partner is standing this is his or her truth. You might not agree. That’s fine but accept for him or her and his or her experiences this is how the situation looks.
If you give him or her the courtesy of believing every word is true—for the time being—he or she will probably return the favour and imagine what you’re saying is true (for you) too.
2. Take a couple of deep breaths
It is hard to hear criticism. It is easy to get overwhelmed with anger or want to walk away but if you take a couple of deep breaths, you’ll feel a bit calmer and you’ll not only be able to stay but put my tips into action and be a better listener.
3. Check it out
You might have heard ‘I’m really upset because you couldn’t be bothered to pick up my dry cleaning, like you promised.’ but that might not be what was said or perhaps meant. So check it out with him or her.
You might find that he or she didn’t so much think you couldn’t be bothered but your partner thinks you put work first. It’s a small difference but an important one.
Once again check out what you think you’ve heard – because we immediately start editorialising ourselves. For example: ‘This is not so much about the dry cleaning but my relationship with my work, am I right?’
I hope this answers your ambition: help me be better listener.
If you’re ready to progress to the next level of listening, check out my video on Reflective Listening
There is more about Reflective Listening and how to improve communication in my book Wake Up and Change Your Life.