It is a truth almost universally acknowledged, that we could all be better listeners. We have an inbuilt desire to be heard, yet we do not always meet that need in others. The couple that can listen to one another is well on their way to communicating effectively.
This exercise is designed to help you and your partner really listen to one another. Try it together and see what you think.
Whoever speaks first is Person A. Whoever listens first is Person B. Read the guidelines before starting the exercise.
Person A Guidelines
Think of some issue or incident with your partner from the recent or distant past that upset you. As you talk, focus on how it made you feel.
When you didn’t arrive on time, I felt let down at first. As the time passed I became angry. But when I couldn’t contact you I began to feel anxious for your safety. Then finally you breezed in with some feeble excuse for being late. I felt relieved to see you but really hurt and still angry. You dismissed my upset, telling me to cheer up – now that you had arrived we should enjoy our time together. I tried to move on but all evening I felt resentful, as if you did not understand me at all.
Person B Guidelines
As you listen, focus only on what your partner is saying. Take particular note of how this incident made your partner feel.
When giving your feedback, stick as closely as you can to what your partner has said.
Avoid dismissing your partner’s feelings, e.g.: You shouldn’t feel hurt. What your partner feels is what your partner feels – it is real for him/her and must be acknowledged.
Avoid corrections, e.g.: You said I was half an hour late. In fact, I was just 25 minutes late. This indicates that while you were listening you were preparing your defence. It reinforces your partner’s sense of not being heard and understood.
Listening Exercise: Part One
Person A speaks for five minutes without interruption on an issue that they have found annoying or troubling in the relationship. Person B keeps silent. You must listen without interrupting – even if you think A has got the story all wrong.
Person B then spends three minutes recounting as accurately as possible what they have heard A say. This is simply recording – no corrections or perceived inaccuracies to be addressed at this stage. Start with: What I have heard you say is… This helps you stick to the feedback task, recounting what you have just heard.
Person A gets one minute to correct any misinterpretations or omissions that B has made eg. Yes, you got most of it right. But you left out that I said I felt hurt, sad…The object of the exercise here is that Person A feels that B has really heard what A has said and that B acknowledges how A feels. So, when you are the listener – B, it is vital that you simply acknowledge receipt of the information.
Avoid giving your response however well-meant, e.g.: I know you say it makes you angry but really there is no need to feel that way.
There will be time later to reach an agreement on how to handle such an issue in the future. For now, your role as listener is to do exactly that – LISTEN – not to comment, even if you think that could be helpful.
Listening Exercise: Part Two
Next, the roles are reversed. Now B gets a chance to speak on an aspect of the relationship. It can be on the same issue or it might be something else. Person B decides.
Follow the steps as in part one.
If your partner anticipates the change that you desire, that’s a eureka moment.
Warning. This exercise is not as easy as it may seem. Be patient with yourselves. It takes quite a bit of practice before attentive listening becomes part of your skills set.
Barbara Duff is a relationship and psychosexual counsellor with over 20 years’ experience. This is an edited extract from her book Rekindle the Spark – 10 steps to revitalise your relationship. Published by Orpen Press ISBN 9781786050380. Also available on Amazon.