Good listening skills foster intimacy, and better listening skills means a better relationship.
“What did I just say?” my husband asked me.
“I need to call the moving company today,” I said.
“That’s not what I said,” my husband returned.
“Ugh. What did you say then?”
“I said I’ll call the moving company tomorrow. You weren’t listening again, huh?”
I scowled at him and then nodded.
Listening can often be a major point of contention in relationships. You or your partner may want the other’s full undivided attention, but you or your partner might have trouble staying focused.
It’s a sign of respect when we give someone the gift of our attention, and your partner deserves that from you on a regular basis.
Listening is hard because it’s so easy to get distracted. Our devices are always chirping, beeping, or dinging. You might have the TV on or be out somewhere crowded. You might too have had a long day at work and don’t want to sit and hear about your partner’s struggles with his boss for the third time that week.
Good listening skills foster intimacy, and research backs this up. Being a good listener and responding in a way that makes your partner feel good is called being “responsive to your partner’s needs.”
Being a responsive partner, and feeling like your partner is responsive to you, correlates to how well you communicate and how close you are. When you listen to your partner and they listen to you, it feels like your partner really “gets” you.
If you struggle with listening or feeling heard, here are some tips to help you.
If you’re listening:
When I was a teacher, I learned a simple blueprint for helping anyone listen. It’s commonly used as a classroom management technique, but it’s easy to remember and can carry over to any instance where you need to pay attention. If you truly want to listen, you want to SLANT.
SLANT stands for:
S: Sit up
L: Lean forward
A: Ask and answer questions
N: Nod your head yes or no
T: Track the speaker
It’s been proven that the way you hold your body can influence your mind, so if you want to be attentive, think about your body. S, L, and Thelp you do that by asking you to sit up straight, lean toward the speaker, and follow them with your eyes (track the speaker).
Further, when you ask and answer questions and nod (A and N), you foster engagement and encourage your own understanding.
With all of those combined, your partner will feel heard.
The next things you can do are validate and be caring. Validate your partner’s feelings by saying things like, “I would feel the same way,” or “I can tell why that’s important to you.” Show that you care by telling them things like, “We’re in this together” or “I’m here for you.”
If you’re talking:
If you’re saying something that you feel is important (“Bobby needs to be picked up at 10. Can you do that?” or “I’m really mad about ____.”), make sure your partner is in a place to hear you. You can ask for this really simply: “Hey, I need to talk to you about _______. Is now a good time?”
If they say “no,” make sure you have a scheduled time (either in 15 minutes or, say, at 5pm), and then follow up.
If you find that once you start talking about it that they get distracted (looking off, picking up their phone, etc.), ask again, “Is now a good time? Would you rather wait until ____?”
If an issue keeps being tabled or escalates every time from a civil discussion into a fight, it could be a sign that you and your partner need further help communicating. It would be best then to reach out to a trained professional, such as a coach, counselor, or therapist.
My husband and I try to sit down most nights and check in with each other about our days. We put our phones on silent and set them down, we look into each other’s eyes, and we cover the small and the big, the good and the bad. It usually only lasts about 10 minutes, but it’s a way that we connect and feel closer despite how busy our lives can feel.
We don’t always listen to each other perfectly, but when we do, we ensure our relationship will keep being special to us both.