The 10 Commandments of Marriage: 2. Communicate With Your Spouse In an ongoing series, this second commandment offers four tips on strengthening your communication skills—including the importance of listening. BY LYNNE Z. GOLD-BIKIN
Listening is a skill that you need to pay attention to.
It is almost impossible to share a life with someone with whom you can't communicate. Most relationships that fail are ones where people talk past each other, rather than to each other. How can one meet the needs of the other if they don't know what they are? And, how can you know what they are if you can't hear what's being said because you haven't learned to listen? Finally, what skills must you develop so that your thoughts, feeling and needs are recognized?
Listening is a skill that must be developed. Try this little exercise some time: Repeat back to someone what you think they've said to you. It is not easy. People tend to listen with half their brain, while they're thinking of how to respond (or, perhaps, what time the ballgame starts). Somehow, what one hears may be what one wants to hear. If this is the pattern of the relationship, there is no communication and, surely, no partnership. Part of a relationship means responding to what's actually being said, not what you think they mean. Is there anything more frustrating than having your feelings and thoughts being falsely interpreted?
What skills can we develop to ensure that we can actually "hear" what's being said, that we "understand" our partner's feelings and that we "see" what he/she is saying?
First, regularly set up times for discussions. Trying to talk to your wife when she's cooking dinner with a baby on her hip is probably not the best time to discuss a fight with your boss. Expecting your spouse to go over weekend plans in the middle of watching your favorite TV show is designed for failure. For a serious conversation, it's probably best to set a time free of distractions—with no television playing, cell phones off, kids in bed and no other plans to interfere with the discussion. If the subject is important enough, planning the time for the talk is extremely important.
Second, make a point of checking in with each other on a regular basis (daily is good) to update each other on what is going on in your life and, perhaps, to share concerns or stresses. This way, things don't become so overwhelming that the entire discussion is focused on you rather than the both of you.
Third, make sure that you each have time to talk about your needs, feelings and desires. If you both feel there is time for each of you to speak, you are less likely to be thinking about getting your thoughts into the discussion and more likely to be listening to what is being said. Once one partner has talked about his/her day, the other partner gets the chance to talk. Sometimes, one has more need to share than the other, but if that is always the case, the relationship becomes one-sided and not mutually satisfactory.
Fourth, don't try to fix every problem. If, when your partner shares a concern you jump in to tell her what she should have done rather than listen to what actually happened, the sharing will probably stop. Listening means listening, not fixing the situation.
Part of a relationship is having someone to share with, life aggravation, joy, sadness—the whole gamut of emotions. If you don’t feel your partner is willing to listen occasionally and help share the load, the relationship will struggle and may not survive.
Nationally known family law attorney Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin is chair of the family law practice at Philadelphia-based law firm Weber Gallagher. Ranked one of the top ten divorce attorneys in the U.S. by Worth Magazine, Gold-Bikin is a former chair of the American Bar Association's Section of Family Law, and has more than three decades of experience advising clients on everything from financial matters, prenuptial agreements and divorce, to custody disputes and domestic violence.