Have you ever been talking for awhile and noticed that the person you were talking to wasn't paying attention? An especially irritating instance is when someone asks you a question about something...."Hey how are things going with your new job?" You begin to share and you notice that they really didn't want to know and before you have finished your second sentence they are moving toward the refreshment table leaving you in mid sentence. How annoying. It would almost be better, in my mind, if they didn't even ask in the first place. If this happened to you would you feel irritated? Insignificant? Boring? People have many reactions, but it doesn't feel good.
We often notice when this happens to us, but do we notice when we do it to someone else? Usually not. I am guilty of it too. Writing about this is an extra good reminder for me to pay attention to some of the blocks we all have when listening to each other. It feels easier to just brush off an acquaintance who might not listen very well to us, but when a partner in a love relationship does this, it can hurt. In fact it can make you feel very unsupported, especially the deeper and more vulnerable the topic.
Here are a few blocks to listening to watch out for.
1. Rehearsing - you try really hard to look like you are listening but really your mind is going a million miles a minute preparing what you are going to say next.
2. Over Identifying - I am not talking about empathy here, but listening to the story of your spouse's toothache and then pouncing on, "well, you think that one's bad...."
3. Advising - you begin to listen to a couple sentences and then can't wait for them to be quiet so you can tell them how to fix it.
4. Jumping Tracks - suddenly changing the subject (or moving to the refreshment table mid sentence) or joking something off to avoid listening or feeling uncomfortable.
5. Being Right - going to any length to being wrong, proving your point, admitting a mistake, that you jump back in retaliation or proving that you are right without really listening.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these? I know you recognized your partner doing these but maybe you can pick out one that you do most often and try to become aware of when you do this and what you are feeling when it happens. Are you trying to impress? Do you feel yourself becoming defensive? Awareness is the first step to making a change.
The key to real listening is wanting and intending to do so. It doesn't mean sitting still with your mouth shut staring at the other person. It is an active process that includes letting the speaker know that you are with them along the way, asking clarifying questions, and acknowledging with empathy what the other person might be feeling. Listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced. It brings closeness, intimacy, and a feeling of being supported by your loved one.
Nancy Ryan, LMFT specializes in working with individuals and couples who want deep, satisfying relationships with themselves and their partners. She works with couples who are ready to stop the destructive patterns and want to build the love, friendship and romance back into their partnership.