Active Listening

Active Listening Excercise to Affirm your Spouse

This excercise is a great way to work through difficult issues in a relationship. So many times, we don't feel heard by our spouse because they are not listening to us. They are preparing their rebuttal to our statement instead of really hearing the full message. People don't listen because they fear that if they really listen, it will be misunderstood as agreement to what the other is saying. They may also believe that if they really listen, then they may have to change, and they don't want to do that. When your spouse cuts you off, and won't let you complete your thought or sentence, they are really saying, "what I have to say is more important than what you have to say. In other words, "I'm OK, YOU'RE Not OK!" (See Communication 101)

I usually challenge each spouse to call for one active listening session per week. When calling for a session, each spouse must agree to when and where a session is to take place. One party can never demand to have a session, because anger or coercion is never an attitude that works in active listening. Come to the table with an "I'm OK, You're OK" attitude, not like this picture. Each spouse faces each other and a time piece is placed in the middle. The person who called for the session begins to speak to the other spouse and keeps his/her communication to one minute. Try to stay on one general topic per one minute delivery. The other spouse listens intently because they will then get to paraphrase what their partner said in that one minute segment. After the first person speaks, the listener begins by saying, "I heard you say..." then paraphrases what they can remember what their partner said. The listener may want to add their own interpretation to what was said or may include what they remember from past interactions with their spouse but this is not active listening. Paraphrase only what your partner says in their one minute session. The original speaker then has the opportunity to clarify whether the listener understood exactly what was said. The paraphrasing and clarifying sessions can take as long as necessary for understanding and clarity to prevail. Then the listener takes his/her turn at speaking and the original speaker takes on the listener's role for one minute. They can speak on any subject they wish, again trying to stick to one general topic, or express their own thoughts about what the original speaker said. After one minute, it is too hard to remember everything when it goes for too long, the listener says..."I heard you say..." and paraphrases. The speaker then clarifies if necessary. This goes back and forth for at least twenty minutes. Eventually, when each party is really listening, the communication may digress into a more normal interaction such as speaking and listening for both parties.

What are the benefits to Active Listening?

Most importantly, the speaker feels affirmed by their partner's attention to details and the knowledge that their partner really did listen and understood what was said. A mutual level of respect is attained for both parties. An unadulterated message is understood without having to rehash or mop up interruptions or over-reactions. Individuals usually can express their concerns in a couple of minutes if they are not interrupted and when they feel like they are really being heard. Then the listener feels good about themselves because they listened and they have earned the right to be heard. Active listening creates a collaborative atmosphere for generating new agreements. Both parties leave feeling good about themselves and the other party, which nurtures emotional and intellectual intimacy.