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Stress and Relationships Week 2: Listening Skills

A key component to having a strong relationship is to have impeccable listening skills. The benefits of being a great listener can offer you a deeper connection to the other person as well as showing that you value their needs and ideas without being judged. Being a great listener will reduce stress between those involved since the other person feels understood and appreciated. The defense mode isn’t activated and there is more clarity in the discussion.

Good communication skills are vital to creating and keeping a loving and healthy relationship. Whether that is with a spouse, significant other, child or best friend. Being able to openly communicate while also feeling you are being heard and respected will create a more resilient relationship. Undivided attention during a conversation is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other and will lead to a deeper bond in your relationship.

Here are some great tips to become a better listener:

Tip #1:

Learn to listen with intent and care. When we are listened to, we will feel cared for. Listening is a skill that we need to cultivate. Many of us think we are good listeners, but the reality is, we are not doing it properly. The most critical aspect to a relationship is for couples to learn to listen to each other as it is the foundation of for successful communication.

The key is to not start forming your next sentence in your head (that’s anxiety and racing brain), instead listen intently to what they are saying to fully understand where they are coming from. This takes a lot of practice and realizing if you are racing to form your “comeback” or if you are intently listening to what they are saying. In fact, if you and your partner are getting into frequent little fights or disagreements, your listening skills could be the issue.

- Body language plays a big role in good listening skills. During any type of discussion, make sure your eyes are on your partner and lean forward slightly, try not to cross your arms or scowl. These nonverbal cues show that you are intent on listening.

- Remove and distractions like the TV, computer, cell phone or other family members. Removing distractions will allow you and your partner to be able to have total focus on each other and the conversation without the distractions and going off topic.

- Listen to the entire conversation before “building your case.” Again, this goes back to thoroughly listening and not trying to form your sentence. When you listen to the entire conversation first you will have a clear understanding of what they want to discuss. A great example is if you are a Democrat and you’re listening to a Republican talk about gun control, your ears will be focused on what you disagree with like a debater. Debaters will listen to prove that they’re right and the other is wrong, couples do not do this. Are you starting the conversation with a “Yes, but…” or “I know, but…” before you add your version? If so, you, my friend are a debater and not a listener. This not only dismisses the conversation, but makes the other person believe that you truly were not listening to them in the first place.

- Instead, listen to how you can agree with your partner. Here is an example; your partner says, “The house is a mess” even though you think it is clean compared to what it was two hours ago before you started putting things away. It may be tempting to reply with a snide, “It’s clean except for the areas you touched and created more of a mess.” Take a moment and think about what they said and what they see. If you truly don’t understand why they think it is messy, ask for some clarification instead of jumping to conclusions. Say to your partner, “What about the house looks messy to you?” Let them respond and then you can go from there. If they say that the kitchen sink is full, you can politely remind them that the dinner party you had the night before filled up the sink and you haven’t had a chance to clean the dishes because you spent some time cleaning the living room. Ask them to help you so you can both have a clean kitchen, instead of yelling, “I spent an hour cleaning up the living room after working an eight-hour shift, how dare you say it’s a mess!”

- Holding back your own emotional reactions and interpretations to get to the essence of what is bothering the speaker will help you becoming a better listener. Slowing down and taking the time to listen to what they are saying, asking qualifying questions and then formulating your response can help you get to the root of the issue without jumping to conclusions and creating a disagreement.

- Summarize what your partner has said so that you know what your partner intends for you to hear and they know that you are truly listening. After summarizing what they say, it is important to tell your partner what you agree with and add your own thoughts to the conversation. For example, “I hear you think that the house is a mess. I agree the kitchen could use a little more cleaning and I intended to do that once I was done cleaning the living room. Would you like to help me so we can get it done faster?”

Tip #2:

Be approachable to your partner and approach your partner when you notice something off. When you see signs of stress ask your partner from a space of love and compassion what is bothering them. It could be a simple question like: “Did you have a hard day, darling? Come sit next to me and tell me about it, I’m all ears.” Learn how to listen without trying to fix things. The key to listening is to not try and figure out what you can do to fix the situation, but to listen and repeat what they tell you. “I hear that you are having trouble with one of your co-workers. I’m sorry that is happening. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Take the time to acknowledge their stress, whatever it may be. Appreciate it and let your loved one know that you are there to listen and give advice if they want it. They may thank you, but tell you they don’t need help fixing anything, they just need someone to vent to and listen so they can get rid of some of the stress. Having you as a sounding board and just listening may also help them figure out how to solve their own situation. Be still, be quiet, be respectful and let them know you are there when they need it. In the same respect, you also need to be approachable for your loved one to do the same. Try not to distance yourself from them when you become stressed. Thinking that keeping your stress to yourself is a good thing will only backfire. Open up to your partner and let them know that you are stressed about a situation and may seem a little “off” in the next few days until it is resolved.

Tip #3:

Ask your partner how you can help. To create a lasting bond with your loved one can be done by simply asking how you can help. Be proactive and take notice if they are having a frustrating moment and simply ask, “Is there anything I can do to make your afternoon a little more joyful?” If you think you may know what could help them simply ask, “Would it be helpful if I took the kids to the park while you took a nap?” It could be as simple as offering a back rub, hug or doing a few chores for them. This is where the stress ritual comes into play from my first week’s tips. When you know what your partner likes to do to relieve stress offer one of their rituals to them and see if they can tell that they are stressed and could use some downtime. “It looks like you had a long day. Why don’t you go work on your hobby or take a nap. I can come and get you when dinner is ready.”

How have you become a better listener with your partner? Which of these tips could you use in your current relationship to create a tighter bond?

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