Episode 308 – Relational Listening – An Essential Sexual Conversation Skill

relational listening

In this episode, let’s talk about one of the most powerful tools in your relationship toolbox – relational listening. What is relational listening? It’s more than hearing, it’s understanding. So, how do you use it in conversations? Let’s talk about that! Listen to this episode to know what to do before, during, and after having a relational conversation with your spouse. Learn how to create a safe space for both of you to express your desires, fears, and fantasies so that you can have that fulfilling sexual relationship you’ve always wanted.

Show Notes:

Show Summary:

Today, we’re going to explore one of the most powerful tools in your relationship toolbox: relational listening.  So, what exactly is relational listening? It’s more than just hearing your partner’s words; it’s about truly understanding their emotions, perspectives, and needs. It’s about being present, empathetic, and open-hearted. And it’s an essential ingredient for deepening intimacy in your marriage and sexual relationships.

You might be wondering, why do we need to practice this? Well, for starters, relational listening fosters trust and connection. When your partner feels heard and understood, they’re more likely to open up and be vulnerable with you. This, in turn, creates a safe space for both of you to express your desires, fears, and fantasies—essential ingredients for a fulfilling sexual relationship.

Before diving into a potentially challenging conversation with your spouse, it’s crucial to understand and confront yourself first. This means taking a moment to check in with your own thoughts, emotions, and intentions. Here’s how:

  1. Identify Your Triggers: Reflect on what specific words, actions, or topics tend to trigger strong emotional reactions in you. Understanding your triggers can help you anticipate potential challenges during the conversation.
  2. Explore Your Feelings: Take some time to explore the underlying emotions driving your desire to have this conversation. Are you feeling hurt, angry, or misunderstood? Examining your feelings can help you communicate them more effectively to your partner.
  3. Clarify Your Intentions: Be honest with yourself about what you hope to achieve from the conversation. Are you seeking understanding, validation, or resolution? Clarifying your intentions can guide your approach and keep the conversation focused on productive outcomes.
  4. Challenge Your Assumptions: Examine any preconceived notions or biases you may be bringing into the conversation. Try to approach the discussion with an open mind and a willingness to consider your partner’s perspective.
  5. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself throughout this process. Recognize that it’s okay to feel vulnerable or unsure, and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them.

By confronting yourself before confronting your spouse, you can enter the conversation with greater self-awareness, empathy, and intentionality, laying the foundation for a more constructive and empathetic exchange.

Many times we want to go into a conversation to convince our spouse that we are right and they are wrong, rather than being curious about their perspective as a way to understand them better.  

I was listening to the Faith Matters Podcast and they had on Chad Ford, a BYU Hawaii professor, who has been working on peacemaking initiatives in Israel and Gaza for several decades.  He talked about when he was studying to be a mediator.  The Hawaiians have a word PONO, it means that things were done in the right way or in “righteousness.”  So when you are in talks with someone they will ask if you are PONO – that you are conversing in the right way.  But then they also have another word, PONOPONO, which is the most right way.  It’s like saying, do you want to be right or do you want to have peace, or have things be the most right.  And I love thinking about that when we talk about conversations with our spouse.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How do you actually practice relational listening? Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1 Be Present: Put away distractions, make eye contact, and give your partner your full attention.

2 Listen Actively: Focus on what your partner is saying without interrupting or thinking about your response. Reflect back what you hear to ensure understanding.  You can say things like:

    • “So, what I’m hearing is…”
    • “It seems like you’re saying…”
    • “If I understand correctly, you’re feeling…”
    • “Let me make sure I’ve got this right…”
    • “You’re expressing that…”
    • “From what I gather, you’re experiencing…”
    • “So, you’re telling me…”

Using these phrases allows you to mirror your spouse’s words and emotions, demonstrating that you’re actively listening and trying to grasp their perspective. It encourages open communication and validation, strengthening the bond between you and your partner.

3 Empathize: Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try to understand their perspective. Validate their feelings, even if you don’t agree with them.  You can say things like:

  • “I can see why you would feel that way.”
  • “It makes sense that you’re feeling [emotion] given the circumstances.”
  • “Your feelings are valid, even if I see things differently.”
  • “I understand that this situation is difficult for you, and your feelings are important.”
  • “I hear what you’re saying, and I respect how you’re feeling about it.”
  • “I may not fully understand, but I’m here to support you and validate your emotions.”
  • “Your perspective is important to me, and I want to acknowledge your feelings.”

4 Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage your partner to expand on their thoughts and feelings by asking open-ended questions like:

“How did that make you feel?”
“What do you need from me?”
“Can you tell me more about how you’re feeling?”
“What’s been going through your mind lately?”
“Can you help me understand what led to this?”
“What’s your perspective on what happened?”
“How do you think we can move forward from here?”
“What do you think is the best way to handle this?”
“Is there anything else you’d like to share with me?”
“How can I better support you through this?”

5 Express Appreciation: Show gratitude for your partner’s willingness to open up and share with you. A simple “Thank you for sharing that with me” can go a long way.

Now, I get it—relational listening isn’t always easy, especially when emotions run high or when you’re tired or stressed. But remember, like any skill, it takes practice. Start with small conversations and gradually work your way up to more challenging topics. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you stumble along the way. The important thing is that you’re making an effort to improve.

Now, let’s talk about what to do when you find yourself triggered during a conversation with your partner. It’s completely normal for certain topics or emotions to stir up strong reactions, but it’s essential to manage these triggers in a healthy way to maintain productive communication. Here’s how:

  • Take a Time-Out: If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, flooded with emotion, or reactive, it’s okay to take a break from the conversation. Politely excuse yourself, let your spouse know you need a break but you will be back to continue the conversation and take a few moments to breathe deeply and calm your nervous system.
  • Ground Yourself: Bring your attention back to the present moment by focusing on your breath or engaging your senses. Notice the sensations in your body, the sounds around you, or the feeling of your feet on the ground.
  • Use Positive Self-Talk: Remind yourself that you’re safe and that your partner’s words are not a threat. Repeat affirmations or comforting phrases to yourself, such as “I am capable of handling this” or “I am worthy of love and understanding.”
  • Practice Mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness techniques like meditation or body scanning to help regulate your emotions and stay grounded in the present moment.
  • Reach Out for Support: If you’re struggling to self-soothe, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted friend, therapist, coach, or support group for guidance and reassurance.

By learning to self-soothe during challenging conversations, you can effectively manage your emotional reactions and approach communication with greater calmness and clarity.

So, how can you practice relational listening in your daily life? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Set Aside Dedicated Time: Schedule regular check-ins with your partner where you can focus solely on each other without distractions.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness exercises together to cultivate presence and awareness in your interactions.
  • Seek Feedback: Ask your partner for feedback on how well you’re listening and what you can do to improve.

Finally, what if you’re putting in the effort to practice relational listening, but your spouse isn’t reciprocating? It can be frustrating, but remember that you can only control your own actions. Continue to listen with empathy and compassion, and lead by example. Your partner may eventually come around as they see the positive impact it has on your relationship.

Before we wrap up, let’s address some common pitfalls of relational listening and how to overcome them:

  • Interrupting: If you catch yourself interrupting your partner, take a deep breath and refocus on listening. Practice patience and let them finish speaking before responding.
  • Judgment: Avoid jumping to conclusions or passing judgment on your partner’s feelings or experiences. Instead, approach the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to understand.
  • Defensiveness: If your partner shares something that triggers defensiveness in you, take a moment to pause and reflect on why you’re feeling that way. Practice self-awareness and vulnerability in expressing your own emotions.

Remember, love is a journey, not a destination. Stay committed, stay passionate, and stay connected. Goodbye for now.

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