Last month, I started a series about the power of listening. My main focus was on listening to spouses, although the exercise I shared could be used in any relationship. This month, I'd like to focus on listening for couples again.
Listening to Reply
Dr. Stephen R. Covey said in his groundbreaking book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” That speaks volumes to me and I hope it will to you, also.
When I listen only with the intent to reply, I'm missing the entire message of the speaker - the content, intent, feelings, and so much more. My focus is me and my thoughts, feelings, and reactions. There's a guarantee the speaker won't feel heard, understood, or connected to me. When we practice that kind of listening, we are truly ineffective listeners. So how can we change that?
Strategies for Effective Listening
1. Stay in the moment. Lay aside the stream of thoughts from your To-Do list and intentionally focus on what is being said...even if you think you've heard it all before.
Healing can happen in any moment when someone is listening with their full attention, patience, and tenderness. That's what happens in good therapy. To be really and truly heard for who you are is a gift we can give our loved ones every day. It costs more psychically than going through the motions without being present...TRUE! But we all know we get what we pay for and that includes the kind and amount of focused attention we're willing to give to those we've committed our lives to.
What a waste to sit there and feign listening! It boils down to feigning intimacy...pretending we’re there for the other person and we care when we’re really distracted by what’s going on in our lives. Or possibly waiting for the speaker to finish so we can counter everything he or she said with our thoughts on the matter. That is the anatomy of a disconnect.
God is present in every here and now moment. It's called the Eternal Now Moment. When listening, we need to think like Him. He's not concerned with a dead past or an imagined future. He’s concerned right here, right now. Jesus is the best communicator that ever lived and He lives in you and me!
2. Stay connected to yourself and your partner. Think, How must he or she feel sharing this with me? How does hearing it impact me? Can I demonstrate empathy and compassion silently by my attention and facial expressions?
Find one single thing the other person is saying that you can connect with and make sure you express that connection. "That must have been really, really tough!" Or..."I'm so glad you told me that part of your day. I had no idea. Tell me more." A tension-laden conversation does a complete shift when one person is listening to really connect. So many times we are keenly aware of the things we disagree about and we feel it's our duty to point out to our loved one what the error in their thinking is, never realizing we are fostering a disconnect in the relationship.
3. Express Empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry FOR someone while empathy is feeling WITH someone. Empathy is very easy when you're listening with the intent to connect versus listening to reply. Sometimes the most connecting thing we can say to a friend who is expressing frustration, shame, or feelings of failure is, "Me, too! I know what that feels like!" Or "I've been there!" It validates their experience. We need to communicate the "Me, too!" message with our husbands. Sometimes no words are necessary and all that is required is active listening. (We talked about this in Part 1 - Active listening means that you're giving the other person your full attention, looking them in the eye, nodding, smiling, or shaking your head when it seems appropriate.)
Who IS listening to your husband? Who IS listening to you?
We all have a deep need to be listened to, heard, and respected. Two key elements in the initiation of an affair are admiration and being listened to! Yes, affairs are less about sex and more about admiration. There is nothing more tempting and alluring than someone giving you their full attention. We are actually doing something to safeguard our marriages when we listen intently at home to our spouses! This is a two-way street. Men and women both desire the connection that is fostered through being heard. Spend some time practicing listening to each other.
Here's a link for a great communication exercise called, Intentional Dialogue Exercise, by Dr. Harville Hendrix, world-renowned marriage counseling and communications expert. This is one of my favorite exercises I use in the office for couples work. Dr. Hendrix also has several books, Getting the Love You Want and also Keeping the Love You Find. I highly recommend all of these resources.
Next month I'll continue with the listening series. The focus will be listening to God.
Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith.Click here to contact us.
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