I want to become a better listener for my partner.
Dear Positive Way, I am currently engaged and I am having communication problems with my fiancé. This has been happening quite frequently this past month. I need to know how I can be a better listener to his problems, I often find myself pouring my heart out to him but when it comes time that he wants to talk about something that’s bothering him I always seem to turn it into something about me. For instance he explained to me that I never want to make love during the week, he feels like I only have intercourse when it’s convenient to me, every time he initiates something I’m either not in the mood or I’m too tired. Instead of listening to him I turned it around to be about me and I have a negative reaction whenever it’s about me. I want to be here to listen to him and support him, not to make him feel as if his feeling are not important. How can I stop turning it around and focus on making him feel at ease. I do care about his feelings, I want to stop being so selfish. Any advice would be helpful! Thank You. signed Kristan, age 20
Dear Kristan, you are very wise to seek some advice on this subject now until years down the road where if it is not resolved it can cause even bigger problems in the relationship. First I feel there are two issues going on in this one question. Let me first answer your direct question on becoming a better listener. We have a great technique that can help in this matter. It is called the Speaker/Listener or Couple’s Fair Exchange technique and details are below.
Use an object that can be passed back and forth to each other when it is that person’s turn to speak. You could use a card or piece of paper – anything will do.
Rules for the Speaker – they now have the object in their hands.
Speak for yourself, don’t mind read
Keep statements brief. Don’t go on and on.
Stop to let the listener paraphrase what they think they heard.
Rules for the Listener
Paraphrase what you hear.
Focus on the speaker’s message.
Don’t rebut or argue.
Rules for Both
The speaker has the floor.
Speaker keeps the floor while the listener paraphrase.
Share the floor by passing the object so the other person can speak.
Also, our book Talk to Me has a whole chapter on this process and much more detail on this subject and I feel both you and your fiancé’ can benefit from reading it. If you haven’t taken the Listening Skills Evaluation quiz on our website please do so. Take it for yourself and then ask your partner to take it. You both will find it helpful.
The second issue I am reading in your request is that you have a negative reaction whenever your partner approaches the subject of sex and when to have it. It is very normal to get defensive and shut down your listening when you feel you are being attacked or put down in anyway. Please read our article on Accepting Influence and Softening the Approach. It is rarely what is being said that causes defensiveness – it is how things are being said that matters. Softening the approach will allow for both of you to listen more clearly without becoming defensive. Once you practice the Couple’s Fair Exchange Technique on small matters at first it will give you a safe platform for the bigger issues later on.
Please understand you have free will. This advice is given only in the realm of personal growth and self-help. This is not to be considered a substitute for therapy or professional counseling. We wish you well.