One of the keys to communication in marriage, is communicating well during a conflict. Conflict is inevitable in any marriage. Learning how to resolve those conflicts is key to sustaining that marriage. The most popular approach to resolving conflicts, advocated by many marriage therapists is empathetic listening. On today’s podcast we will discuss 14 ways to to learn how to listen to your partner empathetically. This is not a skill that comes easy. It takes sincere effort and practice. But it is definitely possible and if you apply the skill, it can go a long way in helping the communication skills in your marriage.
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So the way that today’s topic came up is quite interesting. I was getting some coaching from a fellow coach on an issue I’ve been having in my marriage. And I was really hesitant to get coaching on this because
1. I don’t like to ever speak about my husband in a negative way and
2. (and this was really eye opening for me, but I discovered this during coaching) That because I coach people on strengthening their marriage it is hard for me to admit that my marriage isn’t perfect!
But guess what! It isn’t. No marriage is. Every single marriage has struggles. Every single marriage has ups and downs. And that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good marriage. I think I have a great marriage – but we still have our struggles because we are HUMANS! So I’ve realized that I really don’t want to come across to you as my friends and listeners that my marriage is perfect. I am not perfect. He is not perfect. We are flawed and we definitely have our struggles. But we have a great marriage anyway…despite those struggles. And I absolutely adore him…in his imperfectness. Does that mean living with him sometimes isn’t hard? Nope…sometimes it’s way hard. But there is no one else I would rather do hard with. And that’s the truth.
So many of the topics that I talk about here on the podcast are ones I’m doing research on and trying to get better at myself because they are things I personally struggle with in my marriage. Which brings me to today’s topic……..
Communication is one of the MOST important skills we use in marriage. It is also one of the most undeveloped skills in marriages.
And a lack of good communication is one of the top reasons why couples struggle.
A loving, healthy, and connected marriage is a result of ongoing communication. It’s the little check-ins we do, the ability to communicate what is bothering us, and the celebrations of something we appreciate that builds that feeling of love and connectedness between partners.
It’s not the fighting that undermines the marriage. It’s the NOT fighting. It is impossible to overstate the the importance of communication in building and sustaining a healthy marriage.
So, if you are one of those couples that has trouble communicating (whether that is because neither one of you is good at communicating, or just one of you) my suggestion is to start small. At first it may feel uncomfortable to break the silence in your marriage, or change the way you communicate with each other so that it’s more effective, but the resulting emotional connection will be well worth it.
One of the keys to Communication, is communicating well during a conflict.
Conflict is inevitable in any marriage. Learning how to resolve those conflicts is key to sustaining that marriage.
The most popular approach to resolving conflicts, advocated by many marriage therapists is empathetic listening.
Dr. Gary Chapman in his book the 4 Seasons of Marriage discusses 14 ways to to learn how to listen to your partner empathetically. This is not a skill that comes easy. It takes sincere effort and practice. But it is definitely possible and if you apply the skill, it can go a long way in helping the communication skills in your marriage.
- Listen with your eyes. Give your spouse your undivided attention. Put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Look at your spouse. Eye contact communicates, “What you are saying is important to me.”
- Listen with your mouth. Dr Chapman suggests keeping your mouth closed for at least five minutes. Interjecting your ideas too soon indicates that you are not in an empathetic listening mode. As long as your spouse is talking, your role is to listen. Remember, your goal is to find out what is going on in your spouse’s mind and heart.
- Listen with your neck. Nodding your head indicates, “I’m trying to understand what you are saying. I’m with you.”
- Listen with your hands. Don’t fidget with a pencil, paper, or your phone. Let your hands relax at your sides or in your lap. Don’t put them behind your neck or stretch to the ceiling as if you are bored.
- Listen with your back. Lean forward occasionally while your spouse is talking, rather than sitting rigidly. A slight forward movement of the body communicates, “You have my full attention.”
- Listen with your feet. Stay put. Don’t walk out of the room while your spouse is talking—unless, of course, an emergency erupts in the next room. If that happens, tell your spouse why you are leaving. For example, “Honey, let me put out this fire in the kitchen and I’ll be right back.”
- Listen for feelings as well as for facts. If you only listen and respond to what your spouse says—and ignore feelings—he or she will not feel understood.
- As you listen, try to see the situation from your spouse’s perspective. Try to understand your spouse’s interpretation of the situation and his or her feelings about what has happened. This is difficult to do, because we humans are naturally egocentric, but trying to see things from their perspective is essential if you are to become an empathetic listener.
- Resist the urge to share your perspective before your spouse feels understood. Don’t tellthem that they don’t have the facts straight, that they are misunderstanding your intentions, or they have no right to feel angry or disappointed. Never share your perspective until you understand their perspective. Once they feel understood, they will be far more likely, and far better able, to listen to your opinion.
- Seek to clarify your understanding of your spouse’s ideas by asking reflective questions. “What I hear you saying is that you think _______. Am I understanding you correctly?” When your spouse responds to your question, nod affirmingly. Don’t jump into “battle mode” even if you disagree with what your spouse is saying.
- Seek to clarify your understanding of your spouse’s emotions by asking reflective questions. “It seems to me that you are feeling disappointed because _______. Is that correct?” Your spouse may agree or may say, “Disappointed? How about hurt, angry, and frustrated!” Again, an affirming nod from you will communicate, “I’m hearing you.”
- Summarize your understanding of your mate’s thoughts and feelings. “What I am understanding you to say is that you are hurt and angry because you feel that I let you down by not _______. Is that correct?” When your spouse indicates that you understand what he or she is thinking and feeling, you are now ready for the most important step in empathetic listening: affirmation.
- Affirm your spouse’s thoughts and feelings verbally. You might say something like this: “As I listen to you, I can see how you would feel hurt and angry at me. If I were in your shoes, I’m sure I would feel the same way.” (And you would if you were truly seeing the situation from your spouse’s perspective.) Verbal affirmation of your spouse’s thoughts and feelings is what makes you an understanding mate rather than an enemy.
- Request permission to share your perspective. Now that you have fully heard your spouse and understand his or her thoughts and feelings, you are ready to ask permission to share your own perspective. You might say something like this: “I really appreciate your sharing with me. Now I understand why you would be upset [or whatever emotion you sense he or she is feeling]. Can I share with you my perspective, because I think it will let you know what was going on inside me through all this?” If your spouse is open—and people typically are open after they feel understood—you are now free to share your perspective of what you did and why you did it.
So those 14 steps are empathetic listening. By employing all of those you can help your spouse feel heard and understood and together come to a much more meaningful solution to whatever conflict you are having.
Empathetic listening is just ONE of many strategies that you can employ. But because it takes a lot of work and practice, it can often be hard for couples to use effectively right away. But…I still think you should try.
And over the next few weeks, I am going to be discussing some other ways we can have better communication in our marriages. So I hope you will hit subscribe wherever you listen to your podcast so that you can see what comes next.