Learning how to express concerns in a constructive way (as we did in Part I of Couples Communication) is an important part of communicating with a partner. However, it is equally important to learn to listen to what your partner is saying and to show them that you are listening. Sometimes you may be hearing what a partner says but you are not taking actions that let your partner know that you are understanding them. The following steps can help to show your partner that you hear them when they are communicating to you about your relationship or if they are simply trying to share some other experience with you, such as a bad day at work.
- Listen to what your partner is saying even if you disagree. Avoid interrupting or preparing your defense while listening.
- Body Language: Face your partner, make eye contact, and nod when they say something that makes sense to you.
- Reflect: Let them know what you are hearing. Exp: “I see that you are hurting.” “You feel angry when I don’t do what you have asked.” “It sounds like your boss is putting a lot of pressure on you.”
- Validate: Let them know that you recognize their feelings are real and valid. This does not mean you have to agree with them, rather you understand how they could feel the way they feel even if you disagree. Try to find the truth in what they are experiencing even if you don’t understand it. “I can understand why you would feel angry with me right now.” “I can see why you would feel hurt when your friend said X.”
- Ask Questions: Asking questions lets someone know you are listening and that you want to understand them more fully. “What is it about X that makes you feel I don’t care about you?”
- Avoid Advice or Problem Solving: Unless your partner asks you for it, try to just hear and understand your partner’s feelings. If your partner asks for help problem solving you can then take action.