Improve Your Relationship by Learning How to Listen Empathically
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have your partner not only listen to you but help you feel heard and understood? What if there was a technique you could learn yourself that would help your relationships? You can learn to listen emphatically which will greatly reduce the chance of arguments in your relationship (or at least ones that become hurtful and mean). Use these practical tips to improve your relationship and listening skills.
Improve Your Relationship by Being fully present
You and I both notice when someone is distracted when we are talking to them. Just as people talking recognize when we are distracted too. Whether it is our phones, thoughts about work and other things in our heads, or simply being tired. When we are not present and are elsewhere it often leaves the other person feeling frustrated. They feel like they are not as important as whatever else is taking precedence.
I know for myself that this one is very tough for me to remember to stop (whatever pointless thing) I’m doing and be present with the person that is talking to me (here is an exercise to help you be present). This is especially evident with my kids. It always seems that they want to get my attention when I’m watching something. All too often, I half-way listen to them and tell them that’s great. It’s really stupid that with today’s technology that when I can control the T.V. and pause what I’m watching, and then give my kid the full attention they desire, that honestly, I fail at more than I like to admit. This is true for conversations with my wife as well.
It’s ironic how I can be fully present working with couples, but somehow lack the focus in my own life at times. I think one of the keys here is that I need to recognize what I’m doing. I can improve my relationship when I make a conscious effort to change how I interact with my spouse. However, sometimes we are under a deadline or have a matter that is an absolute priority. In those times, it is better to let the other person know that you are under a deadline, and want to give them your full attention, so you could talk in a little while when you can be fully present with them.
Create a safe space
Have you noticed that sometimes you can be in the same room as someone and just feel like something is going on with them? All too often (especially in relationships) we tend to say something like “what’s wrong or whatcha thinking about?” The typical response is “Nothing or I’m fine.” It’s super frustrating, feeling that something is going on, but that the other person won’t open up to you. The reason they don’t open up is that they feel like the other person doesn’t want to know the real answer.
However, have you ever noticed that when someone leads a question by pointing out a potential emotion it changes how they respond? Instead of asking “what’s wrong” you could ask “You seem really distracted, is everything ok?” Just reading that do you feel a shift in how you would want to respond? This engages the other person, by letting them know that you not only see them but want to provide them with a safe space to discuss what’s going on. We all feel valued and important when we are noticed.
Read between the lines
Have you ever read a text message and took it one way, only to find out later that the person did not mean it that way at all? Why is that? In normal communication, we rely on nonverbal communication that cannot be communicated as easily through written text. If however, you are talking on the phone you can actually hear the other person’s tone of voice, unlike texting where your brain reads the words and creates a voice in which the author is communicating (which frankly that voice depends on a lot of things including our mood and how in that moment we are feeling about ourselves). When we are talking face to face, it is easier to observe people’s emotional needs.
We crave being seen, and yet we miss so many opportunities to let someone (especially our partners) know and feel that we see them. When we pay attention to our partner’s tone of voice and their body language it is easier to understand where they are coming from. As a side note paying attention to our partner can help us anticipate what the other person needs.
For example, when I am talking to my wife and I notice she seems to be tearing up, I’ve learned that most of the time she really needs me to hold her and let her know I’m there for her. On the other hand, when we’re locked in an argument both trying to get our points across, and I notice her head sink. I’ve learned that I’m not listening to her and that I’ve been more concerned about making my point known.
When I acknowledge this, I’m able to stop what I’m doing and focus on listening to her. Improve your relationship by allowing the other person to feel heard. When she feels heard. Then she is able to give me what I need, which is to be heard as well.
Match the other person
It may seem a bit silly to say “match the other person’s emotion(s)”. However, have you ever told something to someone that was scary for you and their response made you feel silly? You probably felt like they didn’t hear you or that they were condescending. By no means am I suggesting that if someone is raising their voice that you should match that. Those behaviors only escalate the situation. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all want people to share in our experiences. That is why being aware of and matching the other person’s emotions is so important. It allows us to join in their experience. Think about it. If you are describing something that made you happy, you desire for the person listening to respond with enthusiasm. Whereas, if your emotional tone sounds sad you want the other person to respond with heartfelt compassion.
A little goes a long way
Sometimes it can be important to offer little bits of validation when listening to others. The point of these little statements is to demonstrate to the speaker that we are listening and interested. Statements like “Oh my! How did you handle that”, “No way”, “Are you serious”, or “gosh, that’s tough” help make the speaker feel free to continue sharing their experiences. As you read the statements notice how you would have felt if someone listening to you would have shared those. I know for me it makes me want to continue letting my guard down. This allows me to share more about what happened while feeling safe to do so.
Wait to give advice
This is challenging for all problem-solvers out there. You hear a problem. And jump right into “I can fix this”. However, from experience, I have found when I jump into problem-solving mode I often make the other person feel like I don’t think they can handle the situation. Or worse don’t care about their feelings and want them to hurry up and get over it. Now is not the time to give my advice and observations. When I say things like: “that’s not true”, “you’ll be fine, Just…”, or “on the bright side it could be worse” it almost always makes the other person feel like I don’t care. I have found that it’s better to hold off on advice and observations until the other person asks for it. Done too early, can leave the other person shutting down and causing what feels like a wall going up.
You can improve your relationship, when you begin to apply the tips of being fully present, creating a safe space, reading between the lines, matching the other person’s emotional tone, offering small validations, and waiting to give advice you will create a deeper connection with the person speaking. I challenge you to begin applying these tips in your relationship. See if it makes a difference. I know it has radically changed mine, as well as, others I’ve helped in counseling.
You can change your relationship. However, sometimes it’s easier to avoid pitfalls and construction zones. With the help of couples counseling, you have a guide that helps speed up the process. Allowing you to create the changes you want faster. My passion and focus in life are helping couples break the cycle, strengthen their relationships, and live the life they were meant for. is my passion and focus in life. To begin making the changes you desire, visit Rapid Change Center. Let’s Connect!