None of us is an island. While it’s natural and healthy to enjoy (or even crave) moments of isolation, quiet and solitude, it’s in our connection to others that we truly experience life the way in which it was supposed to be lived. Living is not about working, striving and accumulating material possessions. It’s about making a difference in people’s lives. It’s about forging and cultivating relationships that bring us joy and allow us to bring joy to other people. While this can encompass everyone from your friends and colleagues to your minister to
Most love stories grievously mis-sell relationships. They always end right when things are getting interesting. They focus on the courtship and the quotidian drama of two people getting to know one another, but they tend to fade to credits on the wedding day or when the couple have reached their first big milestone together… And they all lived happily ever after. But not only is this cliche Hollywood ending unrealistic, it’s actually misleading and irresponsible. It implies that happily ever after is an effortless process that requires no effort and communication from either half of the couple. It just… happens.
Yet those of us who’ve sustained a relationship even into marriage know that relationships require a lot of work. Sure, love is the crucial ingredient and without it the whole thing falls apart but John Lennon was wrong. Love is not all you need. While there are many skills which are helpful and necessary in keeping a relationship going, chief among them is listening. Listening is an integral part of communication and when we truly take the time to master it, it can not only make our romantic relationships more harmonious, it can improve your relationships with virtually anyone else, potentially boosting your career prospects and helping you to achieve your life goals…
Hearing isn’t always listening
Many of us assume that we’re listening, when what we’re actually doing is hearing. We just don’t know the difference. We hear a lot in our day to day lives and yet we listen to very little. Many of us have developed pretty selective filters that tune out most of what we hear and allow only a tiny percentage of it into the hallowed vaults of memory. We kind of have to. With so much background noise clamoring for our attention, we need to be selective. But while hearing is passive, listening is active. Good listeners engage with what they’re hearing and pay proper attention not only to what is said but how it is said.
Try not to rush to say your piece
It’s often said that women listen while men wait for their turn to speak. But if we’re completely honest, we’ve all been guilty of this bad habit. We’ll hear something our partner is saying and start preparing our rebuttal before they’ve had the time to complete their sentence. We’ll stand locked and loaded and just waiting to bust out our immutable retort. But the trouble is that when we do this, we stop actively listening even when we hear the entirety of what our partner tries to day. Avoid this habit, and don’t interrupt either! You might be itching to say your piece but undercutting what your partner has to say can be very damaging to their self esteem.
Take a second to formulate your responses
Responding reflexively to what our significant other says is a common reaction, but it can often escalate matters. How often has a fight broken out between you and your loved one because one of you has said something they didn’t mean without thinking about it. If you want to avoid this kind of hurt, get into the habit of taking a second to think about what you say before you open your mouth. It’s never too early or too late to get into this habit.
Not all listening is done through the ears
What someone says accounts for only 7% of what is communicated. The rest is nonverbal. Paying attention to nuances of body language, eye contact, facial expression and use of space is absolutely essential in effective and active listening. Making eye contact is an extremely important part of listening. While we can have a tendency to look away, hang our heads or look at our hands or feet when the conversation takes an uncomfortable turn, one cannot be an active listener without eye contact.
Are you agreeing or are you placating?
One of the most understandable but potentially most damaging habits we can fall into is placating our partner for the sake of a quick resolution. We make non-committal sounds of agreement; “yep”, “Mmhmmm”, “okay” in the hope that our partner will either drop the conversation altogether or move on to something more palatable. But not only can this behavior be upsetting or even insulting, it can simply exacerbate further conflicts.
Try not to shut out anything you don’t like to hear
Nobody likes criticism. Even when we recognize that it can lead us to become better people, we have an instinctive, knee jerk reaction to erect barriers to anything about ourselves that we don’t want to hear. We can either screen it out altogether or respond to it with criticism of our own. Needless to say, neither often leads to a helpful outcome that benefits the relationship.
Listening can even benefit you when the relationship doesn’t work out
Even if the worst comes to the worst, your relationship fails and matters are taken out of your hands and into the hands of a family law attorney, listening can still benefit your life inside and outside of the relationship. It can help you to resolve disputes peaceably, it can help you to stay civil and forge a better future for the wellbeing of yourselves and any children you may share.
Moreover, it can make you a better person, help you to learn from your mistakes and ensure that your next relationship works out better.
Life is full of little lessons if we only take the time to open our ears and our hearts to them.