During a couples counseling session, Becca, 36, and David, 38, discuss their ongoing problem with communication and how they argue about how to discipline their two young children.
David reflects: “I love Becca and she’s a great mom but she is too easy going with our kids. She gives in a lot when they want to read an extra book at night, for example, which makes their bedtime too late. She says I don’t understand the value of reading but that’s not true, she doesn’t hear me.”
Becca responds: “David is a good dad but I don’t feel he listens to me. Because he talks over me, I can’t explain my point of view. Staying up an extra five minutes to read a few more pages in a book is something I want to encourage so our kids love reading. His rigid ways make me feel frustrated.”
The communication problems that Becca and David experience are common. They are both loving parents who have differing viewpoints. But because neither one feels understood or listened to, they’re feeling aggravated with each other, rather than enjoying the time they have with their children in the evening.
The Value of Listening to Your Partner
Being an active listener requires that you put your own agenda aside and focus on what your partner has to say. It means that you’re willing to suspend your own concerns, needs, and thoughts temporarily so that you can be fully present with your partner and tune into the meaning of their words, tone of voice, and non-verbal communication.
In active listening, the listener gives feedback back as a way to better understand and clarify what they are saying. In essence, the listener is validating what their partner is saying and helping the speaker feel a sense of being understood and being close and connected.
Likewise, with active listening, the listener is checking to make sure they accurately heard and interpreted their partner. This behavior reduces the chance for misunderstandings and disagreements. It’s akin to have a good chat with a close friend and feeling heard and understood.
Couples need to realize that active listening is not the same thing as giving advice. While we might perceive ourselves as being helpful by giving instructions or explaining how to do something, our mate might interpret this behavior as our always needing to “be right.” We might know we are right but ask yourself: Is it more important to be right or to be happy?
Most people rush to trying to solve their partner’s problems by offering suggestions and skip over validation. What Becca and David both crave is being listened to and validated. They continue to feel challenged by many of their conversations. The important part is validation. After all, fixing a problem comes later and most people are capable of solving their own problems. Keep in mind that active listening takes practice and it may not come naturally.
3 Action Steps to Active Listening and Validating Your Partner:
- Stay in the present and pay attention. Tune into what your partner is saying and use good eye contact. If you feel upset, put those feelings aside while you focus more on listening than talking. If you need more information, say something like, “Can you tell me more about this?”
- Check in with your partner to make sure you are accurately hearing what they have to say. For instance, you might say something like: “Did you say you are concerned about our kids getting enough sleep?”
- Validate your partner’s concerns by making supportive comments. For instance, “I get that you want our kids to be rested during the day, this makes sense and I agree with you.”
Sometimes couples are so absorbed on their problems, they forget to see their partner as a person who is worthy of being listened to and respected. Try active listening as a way to understand your mate. You can strengthen your relationship by learning more about your partner and discussing their thoughts and feelings rather than focusing on being right or trying to prove a point.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry