Effective Listening Skills for Couples

Relationship Help Quick Tip

Overcoming a Breakdown in Communication

Too often when one spouse/partner shares a complaint or wants to discuss a marital/relationship problem, the listener interprets the message as: “You’re messing up and failing me…” or some version of: “You never do anything right.”

While this might be the result of an overly critical approach on the part of the speaker (which would certainly need to be corrected), hearing complaints as a statement of failure can also be the result of the following fact:

It is extremely difficult to receive feedback that we may be causing someone we love distress/unhappiness—especially when our intention is to make our spouse/partner happy by meeting her/his needs.

In this regard, most of us (while in the role of listener) are overly sensitive; we’re likely to quickly fall back into a defensive stance (thinking or responding with: “You’re just being unreasonable”; “You can never be satisfied!”) rather than accepting our spouse’s/partner’s truth. Yes, your truth may differ from your partner’s, but a big part of effective listening is hearing and understanding your partner’s perspective—being emotionally open and present as s/he shares the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

When you go into defensive mode or shut down emotionally, in essence you are abandoning your partner in that particular moment and sending the message: “I really don’t care about what you have to say.” This is a recipe for ongoing relationship trouble.

So a big part of effective listening is remaining open to feedback (both positive, appreciative feedback and negative, complaining feedback). Remember, it’s unrealistic to think that you cannot (and should not) improve as a listener. And the only way you can improve is to accept and understand the feedback your partner gives you.

Think of it this way: a complaint (or series of complaints) is important information indicating that a course change is needed in order to keep your marriage/relationship running smoothly. Without this periodic feedback, your relationship is at risk of veering off track with major marital/relationship problems.

Let’s make effective communication a regular part of your marriage/relationship!

Dr. Rich Nicastro


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