Communication issues is by far the number one complaint I hear in couples counseling. When I say, ‘by far’, I mean there’s nothing remotely close.
There are 8 basic parts of communication: sender, encoding, the actual message, channel, decoding, receiver, noise, and feedback. Each part offers a chance for breakdown. Trying to assess how a couple communicates and where the breakdown occurs can be challenging, but here’s one thing I’m certain about:
No person has ever listened themselves out of a marriage.
Good listening can communicate respect, kindness, concern, empathy, and fondness. In a relationship, those qualities create a secure attachment between you and your partner. A secure attachment allows commitment to strengthen and desire to flourish. Here are 6 ideas to help you become a better listener and strengthen your relationship.
Listen for feelings
What feeling do you hear behind the words? It could be happiness, agitation, sadness, displeasure, gratitude, etc. Identifying and reflecting on the feeling can convey empathy and understanding. Which leads me to the next one…
An empathic ear will go a long way
Step out of your shoes and really try to comprehend what your partner is experiencing.
Your job as the listener isn’t to offer judgment or even to assert your opinion (unless asked for). You’re simply listening for those feelings and seeking to clarifying what you’re hearing. If you’re unsure how you should response then see below for the next tip.
Use the Miracle Question
I crafted the Miracle Question from the need in my own relationship. My wife and I have been using it for years now. It’s simple and sounds like this, “What do you need from me right now? Do you just need to me to listen, to hold you, to offer feedback, etc.?” If you tend to jump into ‘fix it’ mode then pause and ask the Miracle Question. This will clarify the need and gives a clear path to your next step.
Timing is key
Trying to have a serious conversation when one of you are in the middle of your favorite tv show or sporting event probably isn’t best. I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on this one. If you’re finding it difficult to have an impromptu conversation, then set a time and work your schedules to make it fit.
Turn the TV off. Silence your phones. Put the kids to bed. Pause your mobile game. Etc.