Listening is one of those marriage skills that doesn’t come with a very sexy label.
However, learning to listen well to your spouse pays huge dividends for deepening the intimacy between you.
Think of listening as a gateway to your spouse’s inner world. What would it be like to truly understand your spouse? I think that would be an incredible gift you can give and one that I am sure he or she would love to reciprocate.
In this post, I’d like to take four specific listening skills that are normally reserved for training counselors and show you how you can bring these powerful listening tools into your marriage.
This is simply rephrasing what your spouse says in order to understand. You might clarify something he or she said by starting a response with words like, “Are you saying…?” or “So you mean…?”
Clarifying helps deal with ambiguity and any vagueness in what you’re hearing from your spouse. As a listening skill, it helps you to be more precise in your understanding and sends a signal that you care enough to make sure you understand your spouse correctly.
For example, if you came home to your wife after she has had a hectic day with the little ones, she might say something like “I just feel like it never stops.” To clarify, your response might be, “Are you saying you’d like me to be more involved with the kids’ bedtime routine?” The clarifying question connects with the context of her day to bring you into an understanding of what she might be looking for from you.
Similar to clarifying, paraphrasing is taking your spouse’s content and feeding it back without asking a question. You’re just making a statement back that helps him or her to be more specific.
It also helps you to know if you’re understanding your spouse correctly.
It doesn’t need to be complex and you don’t want to overthink this. For example, your husband might come home and say, “I tried talking to Fred about his lack of results in sales last month but it was really difficult. He wouldn’t hardly say a word and I don’t know what to do with him.” To paraphrase you would reply with something like, “It sounds like Fred is not responding when you’re trying to coach him.”
You can see how a simple paraphrasing helps you really dial into what your spouse is saying. If you’re correct, you’re closer. If your paraphrase is taking you further from what she or he meant, it provides an opportunity for further clarification.
This is the skill of helping your spouse to identify the feelings that he or she is experiencing but not expressing.
This goes past the details that surround the circumstance of a concern to help identify the emotions that have been aroused.
It is a powerful tool to help your spouse feel understood and get to the core issues.
Perhaps your wife might say, “Little Jimmy came home today and blasted in the door, threw his backpack at my feet with his dirty gym clothes, blew right by me and shouted over his shoulder that he was heading over to Bobby’s right away!” You could respond with something like, “I see. So you felt disappointed? Maybe kind of hurt an angry about being treated like a maid instead of his mom?”
Note the tentativeness there. You can guess at the feelings but it’s important that your spouse be able to identify if you’ve hit the target or not.
Think of this as an aggregate skill. It typically looks like a combination of any of the three skills above. This is where you pull together a few threads from a longer part of the conversation and really communicate back to your spouse that you get what he/she is saying.
For example, say your husband is frustrated: “I just am so done with my brother, Joe. I am sick and tired of his negativity and criticism all the time. It was great when he was in that sales job but since he’s been unemployed it’s like he’s so bitter and hard to be with. I don’t know what to do with him or about him now.” You might reply with, ”Sounds like you’re kind of sad about losing the old Joe that you knew and enjoyed so much. Are you saying that you wish you could find a way to help him?”
First, you reflect feelings (“kind of sad”) and then you clarify (“wish you could help”).
These are skills that you can bring into your marriage today! Of course, it is well known that 80% of communication is actually non-verbal. If you want to learn more about that, I’ve created an exclusive audio clip where I go over, in detail, the non-verbal skills you can use today to really take what you’ve learned here even further.
Caleb Simonyi-Gindele, RCC, MAMFT is the cofounder of OnlyYouForever.com with his wife Verlynda. Together, their goal is to help couples create thriving passionate marriages by offering sound, creative wisdom through their podcast and other professional resources.