A frequent complaint I hear from couples is that one partner isn’t listening in the way that the other partner needs or wants. A common example is a wife venting about her day to her husband. She’s looking for him to come alongside her, just listen and be empathetic. Instead, he’s giving her advice, trying to fix the problem. She complains, “he used to be able to just listen like a friend but now he’s always giving me advice or fixing and not listening to or supporting me.”
What changes after marriage?
When couples make a commitment like getting married or moving in together, they take on a new role. They become more than friends or lovers, they become a unit. In the scenario above, the husband may feel like the problem his partner is describing is also his to carry. He may get anxious when she vents, thinking that he has a problem too. Or, it may be that just seeing her stressed out is very uncomfortable for him and he wants to help end it. His anxiety gets in the way of just listening and he starts to fix.
Here are 6 steps to help get back to a place of just listening well, which is what your wife or partner is asking for and needing.
1. Notice the Fixing Part. Say silently to yourself, “the fixer part of me is coming up right now.”
2. Self-Compassion. Say silently to yourself, “It’s a hard job to be a husband and a part of me gets anxious when my spouse vents.”
3. Breathe. Take a deep breath to ease the anxious part of you and get into your best self.
4. Just listen. Be as present as you can be.
5. Actively show you understand her feelings. Try different listening words. You will land on find ones that feel natural. “That sucks,” or “that sounds awful” can go a long way to helping her feel heard. If you’re not a words person, using compassionate eyes or soft touch may help her feel understood.
6. Check it out. Another time, when neither of you are stressed, bring up the topic of your new listening behavior and ask her what she is liking best and what’s not working well for her. For example, some people like affectionate touch from their partner while venting while other people really do not want that.
Being a spouse that listens well is harder than it looks. Hopefully these skills will help get you to superstar status. If you try these skills and are getting stuck in old patterns try a couples or individual counselling session. The therapy room is a safe space to learn and try out new skills.