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Listening Skills

True Listening Can be a Challenge

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Photo: Rob Van Petten / Getty Images
Photo: Rob Van Petten / Getty Images
Lack of communication in a marital relationship is one of the main reasons couples end up in divorce. When spouses don't listen to one another, the result is often frustration, anger, misunderstandings, and hurt. Even your health can be compromised. Some studies on heart disease have shown that poor communication can result in rapid fluctuations in blood pressure which isn't good for your heart.

Poor communication skills can be an inherited family trait. If a person is raised in an environment where people don't listen or can't express their feelings, they will probably bring that inability to communicate into their marriage and other relationships. However, you can change the habit of being a shallow listener.

Listening Techniques to Try

To become a more effective listener, try some of these techniques:

  • Be aware that you need to listen. Make eye contact. Pay attention by not looking at the TV or glancing at the newspaper or finishing up a chore.
  • Don't interrupt. Let your spouse finish what they are saying. If this is a problem and you interrupt a lot, place your hands over your mouth, or you chin in your hands to remind you to keep quiet.
  • Try not to jump to conclusions. Keep an open mind and don't judge. Put yourself in your spouse's shoes. Be loving as you listen and don't overly react. Think before you say anything in response, especially if it is an emotional reaction.
  • Don't look for the "right" or "wrong" in what your spouse is saying. Just listen.
  • When responding, let your partner know that you heard what they said by using a feedback technique and restating what was said. Say something like You are saying you ....
  • Be open to hearing that you didn't hear what your spouse was saying.
  • Be aware of non-verbal signs and clues - both yours and those of your mate. These include shrugging your shoulders, tone of voice, crossing arms or legs, nodding, eye contact or looking away, facial expressions (smile, smirk, frown, shock, disgust, tears, surprise, rolling eyes, etc.), and mannerisms (fiddling with papers, tapping your fingers).
  • Remember that feelings are neither right or wrong.
  • Look out for these blocks to listening: mind reading, rehearsing, filtering, judging, daydreaming, advising, sparring, being right, changing the subject, and placating.
  • Remember, that you can't listen and talk at the same time!
  • Try to stay focused on the main points that your spouse is talking about. Don't be distracted if your mate digresses onto another topic.
  • It's okay to ask questions to clarify what you thought you heard.
  • Don't give advice unless asked for it.
  • Listen without planning on what you are going to say in response. Let go of your own agenda.

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