When you are experiencing tension with your partner, it’s natural to start wondering whether you need marriage counselling. You may have forgotten how to really listen to your partner or you may feel that they never listen to you. Seeing a relationship therapist is definitely worth exploring, but there are some techniques you can apply right now to the way you relate to your partner that can help turn things around – it’s like DIY marriage counselling.
One of the most significant things I see as a couples’ counsellor is a lack of genuine listening between couples – I know they care about one another or they wouldn’t take the time to see me, but they are not conveying that caring message to each other, at a time when that message needs to be heard most. True listening is more than just hearing your partner’s words – it’s a process of receiving, accepting, processing, empathising and responding.
One major block to truly listening to your partner is feeling hurt and thinking about what you want to say to defend yourself. You may criticise your partner, or cross-complain (this is when one partner raises an issue and the other raises a counter issue – eg. I am angry that you didn’t tell me you were going out, which is countered with You keep spending all of the money). Address one issue at a time.
Sometimes we are so busy wanting to be right, we are forming our counter-argument whilst our partner is telling us about their feelings. This takes your attention away from your partner and they will feel it. Active listening requires you to really be present – to lower your guard so you can listen and respond to what your partner says with phrases like I can see why you might have felt that way. Being able to recite your partner’s exact words back to them is not active listening – being able to paraphrase what your partner has said is active listening because you have heard and digested what they said.
What I often see is one partner talking and the other interrupting to “correct” them or to argue with them. When we are listening to our partner with compassion, we are seeking to understand their perspective, not change it to our perspective. This is respecting their right to their own feelings, rather than imposing on them the feelings we believe they ought to have.
Learning how to really listen to your partner is a lot like practicing the martial art, Tai Chi (when used in combat rather than for meditation), where the goal is to go with the opponent’s force so that we then get more power. Yield to gain is another way of putting it – we give to our partner and the gains will be huge, way more than we get when we are “right“. There is no “winning” of arguments in a marriage, there is only compromise and understanding (or a breakup if these are not present).
Ask Clarifying Questions
If you are not sure how to respond to your partner, ask more questions and get clarity about what he or she is saying. Do you mean X, or do you mean Y? Questioning further shows your partner that you are listening and trying to really understand what they are saying. It’s important to do this in the spirit of genuine clarification, not with sarcasm or belittling. Use a loving tone and you will feel the tension begin to melt away as understanding takes over.
Finding out more about why your partner feels a certain way is a particularly effective way of dialoguing about a disagreement without having a “fight” or hurting one another’s feelings. This requires asking deeper questions such as Do you know why this matters so much to you? Or Is there something in your past that makes you feel this way? If your goal is not to change your partner’s mind about how they feel but to gain a deeper understanding of them, you need to really listen and have an open, inquiring mind. Approach the situation with detached curiosity, as if it were happening to someone else. This will result in a deeper and more understanding relationship – one where your partner feels truly heard and respected, and you feel proud of your behaviour within a strong marriage or partnership.
DIY Marriage Counselling
If you are not currently doing these things, don’t worry, just begin to change your behavior now. You don’t have to wait for an argument to arise – practice active listening with empathy and compassion in your very next conversation. Let your partner know that you’re committing to really listen to them and have a deep dialogue about how you can use loving communication to bring you closer together. Choose to have the relationship you want to have and can feel proud of.
Need some help learning how to really listen to your partner? Book an appointment for couples’ counselling today. Sessions available in my Bondi clinic or online via Skype.