Attention Couples: Becoming a Skilled Listener and Effective Speaker
It’s likely that just about every person would say they’re a good listener. But listening isn’t an innate ability all people possess; it’s a skill we need to cultivate.
And it’s a critical one for couples, because the foundation of successful communication is being able to truly listen to each other, without “constructing a counter argument in your head,” according to Michael Batshaw, LCSW, a relationship expert and author of a blog about getting engaged.
Even if you agree on a topic, “if listening is ineffective, there will be sparks,” said Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a Denver clinical psychologist and author of the book The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage.
In fact, if you and your partner are getting into frequent spats, your listening skills may be to blame, not that you chose the wrong partner or the problem is too difficult, Heitler said. (Interestingly, people tend to pay the least amount of attention to building their listening skills, she added.)
Also, remember that it takes two to tango. In other words, “It’s important to recognize that there are two parts to any conversation,” the person doing the talking and the person who’s trying to actively listen, according to Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, a psychologist who specializes in couples and the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great.
Below, you’ll learn the best ways to become an active listener and an effective speaker.
Become a Better Listener
Body language counts. You don’t just listen to someone with your ears; you also listen with your body, Orbuch said. So be sure that your eyes are on your partner and you’re leaning forward. These nonverbal cues show that you’re actually listening, she said.
Ditch the distractions. Try to eliminate all the distractions “that may influence the ability to focus on your partner,” she said. That includes turning off the computer and TV and muting your cell phone. (Yes, that means you shouldn’t text, either.)