If you’ve been married for awhile, you can likely think of a few times miscommunications created a rift between you and your partner. It makes sense that if you’re both racing to get to work on time, get the kids to practice, do different chores around the house, and put dinner on the table, what your spouse is saying and feeling might get drowned out.
The truth is, listening skills are something you can both practice. If each of you commit to being a great listener, you’ll both be better able to find small moments of being there for each other, even on the busiest days.
The 5 Listening Skills
Discriminative listening is something you started learning early. You began to differentiate male and female voices. You slowly picked up on the subtleties of language and attributed meaning to particular sequences of sound.
You learned to distinguish one sound from another.
In your marriage, discriminative listening happens when you can hear the emotional implications of each unique sound. You know the difference between a shout and a whisper. You know that when your spouse says “I’m not upset” she’s suggesting that you’re the one who’s upset.
It’s also important to be able to listen visually—what does your partner’s body language tell you about what she’s feeling?
Listening discriminatively—with your ears and your eyes—helps make communication easier and more transparent, especially during conflict.
Let’s say you watch a foreign film without subtitles. You piece together the narrative, filling in the dialogue to suit the plotline you’ve invented. You have no idea if the story you make up is true to the movie’s actual meaning, because your comprehensive listening skills have been compromised.
It’s important that you’re not left to your imagination when it comes to understanding the messages conveyed between you and your spouse.
What does it mean when she uses one word instead of another? Set distractions aside and ask, “how does my spouse sound right now? What does her body language tell me?” Jog your memory; how does what your spouse is saying relate to things she’s said in the past?
The most essential skill involved in relationship listening is letting the speaker know she’s understood. It’s important to set criticism aside when you’re using this listening skill. When your spouse is going through a tough time at work or with her family, being an involved listener can help her feel safe and loved during a vulnerable time.
To flex your relationship listening skills, show your spouse you’re not interested in changing the subject or talking about you. Each of you wants to be the person the other can come to when a sounding board is needed.
You have the ability to be a great relationship listener; you simply have to allow yourself to see a problem from your spouse’s perspective.
Critical listening is an active form of listening. Listening critically means engaging with what you’re hearing and responding with an opinion or decision.
When you’re involved in what your partner is saying, you show that you care about what’s going on in her world. Critical listening also means responding positively to your partner’s attempt to bring you into a decision-making process.
During conflict, listening critically can help your partner better understand how you’re perceiving her arguments. How are you interpreting what she’s saying? You’ll also be better able to recognize central issues.
Appreciative listening skills are what you use when you enjoy a piece of music or watch a favorite movie. You appreciate the speaker and take pleasure in what you’re hearing. Appreciative listening can be a great tool in your marriage to show your partner you care about and admire her and aren’t just listening to talk logistics.