Thursday, March 27

Learning to Listen

It may sound like a cliché but you may have heard many happy couples say the key to staying together is communication. Usually what springs to mind when you hear this is: you and your partner should be able to talk to each other, express your feelings clearly, don't bottle things up, etc. Of course, you can't keep a relationship alive without talking to your partner. How else would you get to know them, find out their likes and dislikes? And how else will you share your feelings, thoughts, goals and motivations with each other?

However, something that is often overlooked in communication is the art of listening. Being in a healthy relationship means you must be able to listen as much as you talk. Really, one person cannot be doing the talking all the time. At any point, somebody will be talking and somebody has to be listening, otherwise the communication is not complete. This is important in any relationship, but even more so in marriage.

In the early stages in a relationship, it's easy to take turns talking and listening because you are curious to know what the other person has to say to what you tell them, you hang onto their every word and enjoy listening to their voice. As you settle down into a long-tern relationship however, we get comfortable together and may develop some bad communication practices: you start getting used to hearing their voice, so you may unconsciously tune them out. Or you get into the habit of thinking you know what they are about to say anyway, so you don't bother to wait for them to finish their sentences. Or you listen to half of their sentence, before interrupting them with something else that you want to say. I'll tell you of a few examples of how easy it is to NOT listen.

Sometimes when hubby and I are discussing a topic that we both have strong feelings about, I've found that it is easy for both of us to talk about his/her own views, because we both want our views to be heard. Not listening to each other sometimes means that at the end of the day, a lot of words have been spoken, but nobody has taken anything new on board. Why? Because we were both talking at the same time and neither of us was listening.

Another thing that springs to mind is when hubby is trying to talk to me when I'm watching TV, chatting to my friends online or reading a book. Sometimes I just don't hear what he is saying. And sometimes I hear with my ears, but my brain doesn't register any information, so some time later, I'll have to ask, "Sorry what were you saying?"

Or another example: I'll ask hubby a question and he'll say yes. Later on he will ask me why I took the action I did and I'll tell him, "But I asked you and you said yes", and he'll say, "When did you ask me?". This means that he wasn't really listening when I was talking to him, he was distracted by something else that was going on.

Previously, I wasn't aware that I had to actually learn the art of listening. I thought those things come naturally as long as we had a healthy relationship. I now know that no matter how good a relationship is, there is always room for improvement. And I needed to improve my listening skills. Not listening to hubby has led to misunderstandings in the past, and a breakdown in our communication; things that I would rather avoid.

Some time ago, I read a chapter of The Marriage Book that dealt with communication: specifically on the topic of talking and listening (I would recommend reading it!). The authors talked about the things you need to do to be a good listener. One important thing is making the effort to give our partner our full attention. This is not as easy as it sounds. Imagine I'm watching my favourite TV show and hubby decides he wants to have a conversation. It will take a lot of effort on my part to switch off from the TV and turn my attention to what he's saying. And if I can't concentrate on what he's saying, it may be worth asking him to give me a few minutes till the end of the programme. But if it's something really important to him, then he should take priority over the TV show right?

Something else the chapter talked about was our body language. Usually when we are giving someone our full attention, we tend to use eye contact and other subconscious signals. If I'm talking to someone and they can't be bothered to look at me or show any signs of interest, then I'm likely to feel ignored. So I'm also learning to pay attention to my body language when I'm having an important conversation with hubby.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. If we are thoughtful of the way we talk and listen to each other in a relationship, we will certainly benefit from better communication. I know I am getting better at listening now than I was a few years ago :)
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