Do you feel like youíre talking to a wall when your spouse is sitting right next to you? Do you find yourself not talking to your spouse because you know theyíre not going to listen? Or, do you avoid certain topics for fear of a long, drawn-out dissertation from your spouse?
In my practice, I find this to be a common problem with couples. Tuning out your spouse can signal the beginning of trouble in the relationship and, if not addressed and dealt with, can eventually cause resentment and relationship breakdown.
If this is happening in your marriage, whatís going on and what can you do?
1. You're too comfortable. Couples get too comfortable with each other and think they donít really have to pay as much attention to their partner as they did in the beginning of their relationship, when they were trying to make a good impression. "Oh, sheís just coming home from work again, whatís the big deal? Why do I need to hear the run-down?"
What to do: Never take your spouse for granted. By not showing an interest in your spouse, it feels to your partner that you just donít care. After a while, you stop talking altogether and distance grows between the two of you, leading to anger, hurt, and resentment. So itís important to view each day as a new opportunity to nourish and deepen (instead of building a wall) your relationship by showing interest, appreciating your spouse, doing things together, and maybe learning something new about your spouse by means of communicating. The worst thing you can do for your marriage is to get complacent.
2. You donít stop talking. Maybe you or your spouse doesnít know when to stop talking and never takes a breath long enough to realize that they have monopolized the entire conversation for an extended length of time. "Here he goes again! I knew I shouldnít have asked him a question about his soccer game!" To preserve your sanity, youíve learned to simply tune him out, nod in agreement, hope the talking stops soon, or leave the conversation with an excuse.
What to do: If you donít communicate to your husband or wife that they simply talk too much, how will they have a chance to change? So instead of tuning them out, gently and compassionately let them know that you find yourself not listening when it becomes just a one-sided conversation. Also, suggest a time limit for future conversations. For instance, you could say, "Iím really interested in what you have to say, but when it goes past a certain point, like it has now, I just canít listen any more. I love you and really want to connect, so can we make a time limit for certain conversations?"
Another suggestion would be to negotiate a solution that lets your spouse know when youíve reached your listening limit, which could be something as simple as a gesture for a time out or a buzz word that gives the signal that the conversation either needs to change or end.
“Most people donít really listen to one another, either because theyíre thinking of what theyíre going to say next, theyíre preoccupied with something else, or maybe they think they know what their spouse is going to say next...”
3. You lack listening skills. If you or your spouse donít monopolize conversations, but donít talk as much as you used to and arenít really sure why, have you ever thought that you both may be lacking in good listening skills? Most people donít really listen to one another, either because theyíre thinking of what theyíre going to say next, theyíre preoccupied with something else, or maybe they think they know what their spouse is going to say next and answer for them. Simply put, these all represent ways that people donít listen. To shed light to your partner on this situation, you could say, "Iíve noticed that we really mean well when we do try to talk to each other and share, yet I think weíre both guilty of not having the best listening skills. Letís work on that."
What to do: First of all, check in with your spouse to see if itís a good time to talk. If it is, then get present, try to remove your mental preoccupations, make eye contact, listen, and then give your spouse feedback to make sure you heard them correctly. Next, itís your partnerís turn to listen. If both of you do this consistently, youíll become more skilled at communication which will dramatically change the dynamics of your relationship. After all, we all want to be heard and appreciated, and good communication skills are at the heart of this process.
If you find your spouse is tuning you out, get proactive and do something to change a pattern that can be destructive to the marriage.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.