One of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship is communication. When both partners understand how to communicate properly, they feel loved, connected and secure. But when effective communication is lacking, both people can become defensive, and the relationship can be mired down in distrust, misunderstanding and resentments.
When couples are hitting rock bottom, it’s important they relearn critical communication skills, primarily how to listen to their partner.
If you find you and your partner are struggling in understanding each other, below are three essential listening skills that can help improve your communication.
- Validate Your Partner’s Feelings
To validate your partner means to understand what they are saying and feeling from their point of view. This does not mean you have to agree with them. I often remind couples validation does not equal agreement; it simply means you can see the other person’s point.
When responding to something they said, you can validate them by saying something like, “That makes sense because…” or “I can see how you might think or feel…” or “If that’s how you’re seeing this, then how you’re feeling makes sense.”
You may not always understand your partner’s point of view. In these instances, it’s helpful to ask for more information in a way that is positive and inviting, not negative or defensive. This could sound like “Can you tell me more about…” instead of “I don’t understand what you mean.”
- Mirror Their Own Words
This exercise will require you to reflect or “mirror” everything your partner is saying in their own words. Yes, it can feel a bit awkward at first, but it is an incredibly effective technique. It also helps you understand your partner’s perspective. We hear things through our own world view or “filter.” By repeating back what your partner is saying he/she can clarify any misunderstandings.
When you repeat what your partner has said, you may start your response with something like, “I hear you saying…” or “It sounds like what you’re saying is…”
By starting off with this type of language, it allows you to slow down, process what your partner is saying, and can make the entire exercise feel more comfortable.
The longer you practice this skill, the more you will actually hear what your partner says and understand how they feel.
- Empathize With Your Partner
The final step to hearing your partner is recognizing the emotions they are experiencing in the moment. This will require you go deeper than thoughts and head into the vulnerable territory of feelings. You will want to use phrases like, “It sounds like you were feeling really upset when….” Or “I can imagine you felt hurt…”
Empathizing is extremely important because it shows your partner that how they feel matters to you. It’s essentially a deeper level of validation. Couples researcher John Gottman says understanding (empathy and validation) must precede advice. You can’t problem solve until you both feel understood.
Though it will take some time to get the hang of these new listening skills, the effort is worth it. And remember, when your partner practices these same skills, you will feel equally loved and respected!
Some couples may find they need a bit of help from a neutral third party. Couples therapy can provide a safe space for each partner to practice these listening skills. A trained therapist will be able to guide you and offer advice and adjustments.
If you and your partner are interested in learning to communicate in different ways, please contact me today for a free, 15-minute consultation. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.