When your spouse speaks you hear words, but are you really listening? Creating intimacy in marriage is about more than what happens in the bedroom—it’s also about what happens in the car, hotels, restaurants and any place you and your spouse have a conversation. Ask any married couple, they’ll describe how distracted a spouse can be by other things in the environment, such as the television, the Internet, or our cell phones. They think they’re listening to the other person but in reality they’re not giving their full attention to the conversation. A skill called “active listening” can change everything from the way you interact with others to how you create familiarity in your marriage because you learn to proactively listen to your spouse.
Active listening describes a communication technique in which the listener mindfully hears and works to process the speaker’s message. The success of such communication depends on what Rewire Me Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist expert, Jemma Coleman, describes as showing someone “…you are listening using your facial expression, verbal feedback, and body posture. It is not simply hearing someone—it is communicating to them that you want to fully understand them before offering your response or reaction.”
Implementing active listening consists of two main elements: comprehending what is spoken and restating it (through reflection, summary, or interpretation) until confirmation of understanding is achieved.
A significant value of creating intimacy via active listening is that both partners feel increasingly understood. That sense of understanding deepens connection and emphasizes the love bond, which builds skills related to conflict resolution, plus collaborative relationship and life goals.
To develop your active listening skills try Coleman’s favorite tips:
1. Get all the details. Pretend you are an interviewer getting all the ins and outs of a story. Your job is not to solve a problem or defend yourself but to find out everything you can about the situation. Notice also the visual cues, mention them in a gentle manner to gain more insight, i.e. “I see you’re pacing, are you feeling stressed?”
2. Get started on the right foot. Initiating active listening is all about verbal feedback. You can use some of these sentence stems: “It sounds like you’re feeling…”, “So what you’re saying is….”, “What’s important to you is….” Using these starters will help keep you on track to listening and not taking over as speaker.
3. Trust the process. Be patient. Active listening might seem like the long way around but remember that it’s worth is to replace all of that arguing, talking over each other, repeating yourself and getting nowhere that you were doing before. Once you do a thorough job of active listening you’ll have someone ready to listen to you because they’ll feel no need to interject and restate their point again and again.
If active listening can be such a benefit and enhance relationship compatibility, why don’t we do it more often? Coleman believes, “Most people do not know that active listening is an option. We’ve learned that communication is about getting our point across and being heard. The trouble is that when we all do this, we all become speakers and none of us are listeners. We end up repeating ourselves over and over to each other because we cannot get confirmation that we are being heard. Emotionally, this wears on us and deteriorates our bond with those we are struggling to communicate with effectively.”
Lastly, Coleman reminds that the keys to successful active listening require the elimination of distractions and always cycling through the process of restatement, exploration and clarification for each partner.