The only requirement for the physical act of hearing is ears (well, that’s a simplification, but you get what I’m saying). If you have the right mechanics, hearing another person share a story is physically possible.
Listening is a different story.
When I say listening, I mean the type of interaction where you feel like your mate ‘gets you’, you feel connected and related to, and they are able to empathize with you.
Listening is at the crux of what us therapists do every day. It may or may not surprise you that how to listen was part of my training to become a therapist. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of another profession that gets taught this skill, and most professions would benefit from the class! Wouldn’t it be amazing if more people were taught how to listen in school or life?
So, if therapists are given classes on how to listen to be good at what they do, how can we expect our mates to understand how to listen to us when they may not have had much experience with this skill? Or how can we know how to listen to others if we were never taught?
Here you go… a crash course on listening:
Pay close attention to your body language (direct eye contact, open body positioning, appropriate facial expressions).
Eliminate distractions around (TV turned off, phone put away).
Repeat back what you heard to clarify that you understood the meaning and message your partner was trying to express.
This can be done with: “I think you’re saying ________(paraphrase here).” or “So you are feeling ______ because ________.”
Let your partner know that their feelings are valid and worthy. This doesn’t mean you necessarily agree, but that you understand and ‘get’ how they are feeling.
Try: “It sounds like you are feeling _____, which makes sense with all that you went through.” or “I totally get how you would feel _______.”
Ask your partner what they need from you. They could want you to listen and validate, they could need some help solving a problem, or they could want to feel like you’re on their side.
Unless you have mind-reading skills, the best way to find this out is to ask: “What do you need from me right now?”
Depending upon how your partner responds, follow suit. If they would like you to just listen, than do that: listen, clarify, validate. If they want help problem solving: continue to listen, clarify and validate, and help them identify solutions to their situation. Be careful about overstepping; gently help them identify solutions and find a way to make things better.
This isn’t something you can learn overnight, but with practice it will get easier. Hopefully, with really listening to (and not just hearing) your partner you will notice a richer and more connected relationship. If you would like help with learning this skill or making improvements in your connection with others, please reach out. I’m here to help!
Adriana Joyner, LMFT is a Sacramento Area therapist specializing in counseling for people healing from painful life experiences and traumas, and gender support for those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.