Attention Couples: Becoming a Skilled Listener and Effective Speaker
Paraphrase how your partner feels. Orbuch calls this “perception checking.” So in addition to understanding what your partner said, you want to make sure you understand how she feels.
You might think your partner is angry with you, when she’s really excited or frustrated, Orbuch explained. You can “Ask your partner, ‘did I hear that you’re really angry with me when you’re telling me about how I was behaving at the holiday party?’”
Empathize. You can follow all of this advice, but if your intention isn’t to listen to your partner, it’s not helpful, said Batshaw, who’s also leading a NYC seminar this spring on Cutting Through the Obstacles to True Intimacy. In other words, “recognize that intention is far more effective than techniques for active listening,” he said.
Also, “The couples who stay the most stuck refuse to fully engage in the other person’s perspective.” Which is hard to do, as stated above, if you’re still holding fast to your position, he said.
In general, if the couple is using listening skills, Heitler’s sample situation would sound like this:
“Yes the kitchen and dining room ended up being a mess,” the wife says.
“Yes there’s a new mess that I’m happy to help you clean up this morning,” the husband says, and adds, “The mess I was referring to actually was all the clutter that you generously cleaned up for two hours before our guests arrived. I was thinking that I would like to pitch in more with the daily clean up, so our standard mess in the house every night doesn’t fall on your shoulders and doesn’t sit around all week.”
She might say, “I love that. How about we talk and pick up every night?” And so on.
Without good listening skills, “A potentially lovely moment [can be] undermined,” Heitler said.
Become an Effective Speaker
Pick the right time to talk. “Timing is everything,” Orbuch said. While there’s no perfect time to talk, you don’t want to bring up important issues after your significant other gets home from work, is exhausted or watching TV.
Stick to one issue. Avoid engaging in what Orbuch calls “kitchen-sinking,” which is bringing up all your problems at once. This is when the speaker might go from talking about her husband being late to the movies to him not washing the dishes last week to not doing something else at their wedding.