How long are you able to maintain your focus during a meaningful conversation with your significant other? Do you find that your attention is more heightened when you are without clothing? Were you fully engaged in the conversation? I understand that you believe you are an exceptional listener and would likely debate anyone who disagrees with you. If you resonate with the aforementioned statement, then this article is tailored to your interests.
The secret to becoming an excellent listener is active listening. Communication is a two-way street, and effective communication depends on how the sender and the receiver understand the message (Tennant & Toney-Butler, 2020). How often have you asked your partner for something or expressed your needs, and they didn’t get it? Your message wasn’t clear, and/or your partner didn’t ask for clarification.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is when we are listening to understand and not listening to respond to the speaker. If the following hypothetical exchange between Partner A and Partner B resembles the dynamics in your relationship, it is genuinely coincidental:
Partner A: “You never let me finish a thought before you start talking about something that has nothing to do with what we were talking about! You never listen to me!”
Partner B: “I always listen! Remember last February when I listened to you, and we had that threesome with that hot woman?”
I can only imagine Partner B was thinking hard, trying to figure out the last time they listened to Partner A. Couples often enter a conversation with their partner only to feel worse about the topic or situation than before they started due to feeling unheard. Or even worse, what was supposed to be a calm conversation turns into a massive explosion of emotions due to the listener chopping at the bit to respond to what they felt was a personal attack on their character.
Does this sound familiar yet?
In a study organized by Faye Doell (2003), it was revealed that there are two specific types of listening: “listening to understand” and “listening to respond.” As one can imagine, those in the study who were found to be “listening to understand” reported having a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship than the others. In contrast, those who fell in the “listening to respond” category reported less satisfaction and happiness in their relationship with their significant other.
Honest Reflection: I feel that I ________ listen to understand (or) ________ listen to respond. I feel that my partner _______ listens to understand (or) __________ listens to respond. Ask your partner to answer the same questions and compare answers.
Can TOMCAT help your relationship?
Now that you and your partner have agreed to disagree on who listens to understand and who listens to respond let’s discuss how active listening works and how it will completely change your relationship. Think TOMCAT.
T - Turn towards your partner
John Gottman (2012) conducted a research study with newlyweds and followed up with them again in 6 years to study their happiness in their marriage. While many had divorced, he did find that those who had made it to their sixth anniversary turned towards their partners 86% of the time. Turning towards your partner allows them to see your sincerity and strengthens their connection.
O - Open posture
Your body language often talks more about you than your words at times. If you are sitting there, your arms and legs crossed with an expression on your face that looks like you just ate a sour candy, then your partner will not want to pour their heart out to you at that moment. Open your posture and encourage your partner to feel comfortable expressing their concerns and needs.
M - Maintain eye contact
As Shakespeare famously declared, “The eyes are the windows to your soul,” maintaining eye contact with your partner indicates that you are interested in and care about what they are saying at that moment. If eye contact is uncomfortable for you, use the 50/70 rule. Try to maintain eye contact 50% of the time when speaking to your partner and 70% when listening to them. Pro-tip: maintaining eye contact might help you win a trivia night if you are asked the color of your partner’s eyes.
C - Can’t interrupt
In his book How to be Heard, Julian Treasure describes interrupting as the “ultimate conversation killer,” further providing that there are two disastrous consequences from interrupting your partner (2017). First, when we interrupt our partner, we cannot hear what they are saying honestly. Secondly, the interruption will damage the conversation by shifting the dynamics making the interrupter the dominant force. This sudden flux in power can leave your partner feeling belittled and insulted, causing them to shut down.
A - Ask open-ended questions
According to Miller and Rollnick (1991), the most effective way to facilitate a deeper conversation by asking clarifying questions with your partner is to pay attention to how you phrase the questions. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” These questions should encourage your partner to think critically and be more engaged in the conversation on a deeper level. Some examples of open-ended questions for this exercise could begin with the following words:
What do you think about…
How do you feel about…
What would you have done differently?
Why do you feel…
T - Take time to reflect
Reflecting on the conversation encourages you to find the meaning in the time you just invested in your relations and provide some closure for the topic discussed.
In closing, you can continue the same behaviors you have always done and get the same results, or you can have an honest conversation with yourself and make the changes necessary to live a long, happy, and horny life with your partner!
Dr. Stephanie Sigler