Listening: The One Skill That Saves Marriages

Most people only listen to hear what they want to hear or to respond.

You would think that married folks (seeing that your entire lives together is one big session of compromising) would be better at that than most. Unfortunately all the marriage statistics in the USA let you know that this skill is sorely lacking. When you live with someone but neither of you listen, you’re gonna have constant problems. And eventually someone is going to check out: emotionally and then physically.

Clear communication means less drama, no doubt. But how do you get there–especially when the level of petty and passive aggressive behavior (read confrontation avoidance) increases over time?

I totally do not have all the answers to this question but I can tell you where I have failed and succeeded. Here are some things that I can say work.

Stop having conversations in your mind.
My husband is the king of this. He will swear to high heaven that he told me something; but what has happened? He talked to himself about it. I will usually have zero idea what he is talking about; he will adamantly defend the position that he did tell me. I love the fact that he takes that “one flesh” thing to heart. Unfortunately, we do not share “one brain.”

Say it. Then repeat often.
This one kind of goes along with the first because the repeat step rarely happens until there is a problem. I have learned to leave gentle reminders via text or email or in pass conversation that help me help him remember what may have been said a while ago. People have stuff on their minds and if the issue isn’t pressing to them, it is easier for them to forget. Don’t nag–just remind. You have to judge on a case-by-case basis when you have hit the mark of remembrance. Each situation is just different.

Give (or make sure you have) your spouse’s undivided attention.
I do not how many times I have told my husband stuff while his attention was elsewhere–then got mad because he did not know what I was talking about later on. It is unfair to assume that a person who is looking at you is listening to you, not to mention the person who is not making eye contact. I learned to not assume that when I walk into the room all attention is mine. I now try to make sure that his mind is not somewhere else. And then I go back to point 2: I repeat as needed.

Be clear: like EXACT.
I also sometimes fail at this (so does he but my track record is soooo much worse in this regard). I think I am being clear, but I am really not. I have not worked out in my mind what I want; maybe I have but do not articulate it well. Either way, what my husband hears versus what I actually said won’t match.  If you are like me, then you need to make sure that before the conversation ends, that you have truly reached a consensus–what did you talk about and what actions need to happen next.

If you can get your communication together in any relationship, you have won 95% of the battle.  Learn to speak clearly, concisely, and consistently about what you need and what needs to happen, and watch your stress level decrease.

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