Nurture relationships through better listening
Mary Gosche, Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
Effective communication is key in a successful relationship. In order to communicate better, it is necessary to listen and truly hear what one another is expressing. Here are some rules to ensure that you listen to your partner.
- Let your partner know that you are listening. This does not mean you agree with him or her. It means giving eye contact and doing nothing else while he or she is talking.
- Repeat back what your partner is saying as accurately as you can. If he or she is really angry, repeat it word for word. Otherwise repeat back the central feelings. You will discover whether you actually heard what was said.
- Sympathize, reflecting the feeling as accurately as you can. This does not mean that you agree with what was said. A comment like, “Oh, you sound like you’ve had a really long day and you need a break,” helps the other person know you care that he or she feels bad.
- Ask, “Is there anything more you want to tell me about this?” Your sensitive question gives your partner a second and third chance to calm his or her feelings.
In his book, Fighting for Your Marriage, Howard Markman suggests the couple use an object for one person to hold while he or she “has the floor.” The person holding the object talks and shares while the other person listens and follows the four rules listed above.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking of what you want to say while the other person is talking. Also avoid disagreeing, changing the subject or injecting your opinion while your partner is talking as this will simply cause your partner to start repeating his or her point.
Notice when you and your partner communicate best and try to arrange those times together on a regular basis. “Healing” listening, as described here, isn’t always required. Don’t try to make every interaction an opportunity for an in-depth discussion.
Markman, H., Stanley, S. and Blumberg, S. Fighting for Your Marriage, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2001.
Lindquist, C., Nurturing couple relationships through better listening. Work & Family Life newsletter, May 2004.
Last Updated 08/06/2012