A Better Listener is a Better Spouse

He said, “You’re not listening to me!” and he was right.

There are times when my husband would ask, “Are you listening to me?” And I wasn’t… not really.

I’m married now, and it’s the second time around. My life and my focus are very different than it was the first time. I’m secure enough with myself where I unapologetically recognize I need to change.

The problem reared its head when numerous times my husband would ask, “Are you listening to me?” I would have to admit, even though I thought I was, my mind was often far away.

When did I stop listening to him?
It never happened when we first fell in love… my sole focus was on hearing what he had to say. I wanted to drink in every conversation, and I’d remember every word he said.

In thinking about it, I noticed non-listening times would rear up mostly because of stress; my mind wandered trying to find solutions to problems and situations. But also my attention suffered because of my addiction to devices like my iPad and phone.

I discovered there’s a difference between listening and understanding what you hear. When someone is telling you something, it’s easy to nod, comment, and answer back. I actually thought I had gotten quite good at acting like I was hearing. But, obviously not. I didn’t truly understand what he was saying to me.

I get caught most often when he questions me about something he’s said. I know I don’t have the answer, and then I embarrassingly have to ask him to repeat it.

I developed selective hearing long ago when my children were young. Having four kids with numerous questions and needs at all times, gave me the ability to hone in on one at a time.

But obviously I’ve lost that ability because my mind wanders when I’m just talking to one.

I’ve had to stop myself from checking emails and Instagram while I’m on the phone with my kids or friends. I have to consciously get up from my desk and listen… actively.

In researching “listening,” I learned that comprehension only takes place with active listening and the right responses.

You can only have a real and honest exchange when you’re truly listening.
The “partnership” between listening and comprehending makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of your conversations and the intimacy of your relationships.

This hit me because I realized my lack of focus was actually cheating my husband of true intimacy.

I also learned that active listening is the key to resolving those “difficult conversations.”

Unless you really hear and comprehend, there’s no way to come to a conclusion.

In an article by Dave Schools, he used the phrase “cognitive incision” when describing a technique for maintaining control of a conversation. I think it brilliantly describes the perfect dialogue when both parties are using this technique.

“Cognitive Incision is the ability to see through social facades and cut straight to the truth. [It…] means you as the listener are keeping up, following along, and analyzing everything that’s being said. In your mind, you are cognizant of the conversation, are aware and knowledgeable of the subject.” — Dave Schools

When two people are listening this way, the right questions escalate the exchange to higher levels. This technique not only solves those “difficult conversations,” but it also deepens the connection you have.

I married the most wonderful man 9 years ago, and I was denying our deepest connection by not truly listening.

It went deeper than I thought, my past was holding my mind hostage.
In getting to the core of it, I learned a lot about myself. I was so stressed that I kept my mind busy constantly working through things in the back of my mind. My work was never done. I didn’t allow “downtime,” I only pretended to. As a result, it increased my stress and compromised my relationship.

I worked with my therapist on this. I was always “present” with her. She’d seen me through the toughest times, the deepest grief when my young son died of meningitis and the restoration of my depleted soul when my first marriage fell apart from the loss.

She explained that much of my inability to focus was my innate ability to protect myself. I was always on guard, waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

I often interrupted my husband because my inner chatter was always armed and ready to find solutions. It also explained why I’m an “I can fix this” person. I’m always looking for solutions to problems and issues when people share their thoughts.

My therapist said it’s not my job to fix the world! Ha! She’s right. I’m ready to put down my cape and just listen.

My kids are grown now and have lives of their own. I met my husband and we’ve both lived long lives before we met each other. He’s perfectly capable of figuring most things out…(except how to season our roast chicken!).

I began my quest to practice active listening.

Here’s the step by step plan I instituted for changing how I listen:

  1. Put away my phone and iPad when my husband and I sit down together.
  2. Practice active listening in every conversation daily, including those while sitting at the computer. Try focusing only on the conversation. Let the computer fade to black. Hone in on the person on the other end. Active listening will prompt the proper questions.
  3. Stop interrupting by learning to wait a second before responding. Maybe they don’t want answers, maybe just to be heard.
  4. Invite a friend for coffee. Listen carefully, then respond so that they feel heard. For example, when a friend says, “This has been a tough morning…” Empathize by asking if she’d like to talk about why it was so tough. Solutions are not necessary, only heart and empathy. If she wants advice, she’ll ask.
  5. At dinner look your spouse in the eyes and hear what they are saying. You’ll discover the quality of your conversations will shift. Your attention builds a stronger, more loving bond. It’s honoring your relationship in the language you both spoke in the beginning… that of love.

I already feel less stress by quieting the inner chatter of my constantly active brain. It allows me the peace I was missing… Peace of heart.

Active listening is a return to love.
It’s the greatest gift I can give to my husband, my children, and my friends. I’m so grateful I was ready to hear what I needed to change. And one more thing… I learned to thank my husband for really listening to me. I see the sparkle in his eyes when he hears me. I feel truly loved.

This article was originally posted on Medium, P.S. I Love You.

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