A huge part of communication has nothing to do with that you say. If you're not an excellent listener in your relationship, you're not an expert communicator, no matter how fair, reasonable, and clear you are. That's because communication is about the give and the take, and you have to be able to do both.
A lot of people misunderstand listening. They think it's just about hearing. Trust me when I say that hearing and listening are not the same. Not by a long shot. When I worked as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I spent a good deal of time teaching people to listen to the things they heard their partners saying. Strong, active listening involves paying attention to body language, thinking about what your partner is saying, acknowledging those words, and trying to see their perspective. It's absolutely not just keeping quiet until it's your turn to talk.
Active listening will make your partner feel understood, like you're still on the same side, in terms of you against life, even if you're disagreeing with each other at the moment. These tips are great for arguments and disagreements, but they're also important for just general conversations. Give them a try and see if they deepen your bond and your understanding of each other. I bet they will!
I have adult ADHD, so trust me. I know the focus struggle can be real. But seriously, you need to put down your phone. That's the first step. Then you need to hone in on your partner. Don't look around, play with the dog, half-watch TV, fidget, or act othewise distracted or disinterested. Let your partner know you're there, you're present, you're tuned in, and you're really interested in what they have to say.
2. Don't Interrupt
It's disrespectful to interrupt, even if the matter is pressing, and you feel like what you have to say is the most important thing anyone has ever said in the history of human communication. Well, I suppose if your partner's head is on fire, or there's a zombie sneaking up behind, you can interrupt, but otherwise, let them speak. And make sure they offer you the same respect.
3. Acknowledge That You're Listening
Those head nods, and those words like "yep" or "right" aren't interrupting, they're just acknowledging that you're listening and you're invested in the conversation. They help your partner know you're invested in what they're saying instead of lost in your own thoughts, wishing they would shut up. Ask questions when appropriate, to show interest and understanding.
4. Actually Pay Attention
This is harder than it seems, especially if you have a short attention span like me. It might take some discipline, but don't wander off, mentally, when your partner is talking. Even if it's something you've heard a million times before, take in what they're saying and don't zone out. This is the person you love, and they deserve for you to be present and attentive when they speak to you.
5. Show Empathy
This one can be tricky, but it involves putting yourself in your partner's shoes. This is especially important if you are having a disagreement. Even if you disagree, you can try to see things from your partner's perspective, or at least understand why they might feel the way they feel. This isn't the same as agreeing with them. It's more like being open to ideas other than your own.
6. Watch Your Body Language
When your partner is speaking, you can be actively listening and still communicating negatively without even opening your mouth. Watch for eye rolls, tensing up of your body, crossing your arms, and shaking your head. Never walk away unless you need a minute to cool off or think. Being aware of your body language is one of the most important parts of active listening.
7. Don't Be On The Defensive
You're not talking to your partner simply for your change to argue or to disagree with what your partner is saying. You're not having a conversation about all the things they're wrong about. You're having an open exchange of ideas. If you're on the defensive, and you do things like scoff, correct their grammar, interject "you're wrong" or "nope" every few sentences, you're not being open and receptive, you're being defensive. You have to let go of your defensiveness and think of the discussion as a means of problem solving instead of conflict.
If you can master these skills, everyone will feel comfortable talking to you and your partner will feel safer and more validated when tough subjects come up. And who doesn't want that?
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