By Lexy McCoy-Ulrich, LPC
If you find that your relationship is lacking in closeness, you may just want to ask yourself if you’re a good listener. Because I can tell you that the minute you stop listening, your relationship stops growing.
I see it in the married couples who come into my office all of the time. They tell me that they have lost intimacy, the spark went out, and that they are constantly fighting. And then one of those fights starts to unfold in front of me, and I always hear the same, frustrated line: “Lexy, he [or she] is not listening to me!”
I hear this phrase in the first session with almost every couple I see. The partners are frustrated that their relationship has come to a standstill and feel like the other person isn’t listening to how they really feel.
And that’s why listening is so important. Listening is a gateway to empathy, and empathy is what brings us closer together.
Empathy is the ability to place yourself in another person’s life without judgment and to feel what they feel.
But that’s not what always what happens. Because when it comes time to listen, defensiveness often takes over. We start to hear what we fear, rather than hearing what the other person is feeling.
We might be afraid that we aren’t good enough, or that what we are feeling isn’t going to be valued, and we become defensive because we think that’s what the other person is trying to communicate.
But what are they really saying? What is the feeling inside of them that is trying to be understood? It could be that your own fears are getting in the way of you hearing that message.
Real listening takes courage, because it forces us to lay down our fears long enough to hear what the other person is saying. And that level of risk is what makes listening such an intimate thing.
When you begin to truly listen, you will begin to hear your loved one’s heart, and you might be surprised that is sounds similar to your own. You may realize that this person you’ve been fighting with actually cares deeply about you and that he or she may be fighting for the same things that you are: connectedness, understanding, restoration.
If your relationship is stuck, it could be that you need some help with listening skills. Here are a few tips that might help you improve them. First, try asking more open-ended questions. Then try paraphrasing what the other person says back to them to make sure you understand. When it’s time to respond, start by giving empathy, not advice. If you notice that you are interrupting or feeling anxious to respond, you probably aren’t listening. And most importantly, commit yourself to truly hearing not only the words but also the emotions behind what is being said. No listening technique will help if you’re not sincerely committed to the process.
If you work hard to become a better listener, it’s likely that the communication in the relationships will improve and you will also be better understood. With the ability to listen, you will find that you can grow together and your relationship will flourish.