THE ART OF LISTENING IN HEALTHY COUPLES: ARE YOU A SAFE LISTENER?
Being a safe listener is necessary for true intimacy to occur. One way to think of intimacy is “Into–me-you-see”; it is the sharing of two individuals about themselves. If one or both partners use what is shared, against the other person, it’s not safe to share. If it’s not safe to share, intimacy is blocked.
Many couples get tripped up around listening. They get caught in trying to defend their position, prove their point, turn the tables on their partner, and a host of other non-helpful behaviors. Poor listening has lead to many arguments, hurt feelings, frustrations, and very “cool” nights.
In order to listen safely there are a few necessary ground rules to live by:
• Things spoken in private stay private. If your partner shares something that is particularly personal, sensitive, or touchy for him/her, it is your job to protect that information and hold it close to your chest. Feel privileged that s/he shared it and honor your partner’s privacy regarding that information.
• When one partner shares him/herself in a vulnerable way, that information is not to be used, at any time, as ammunition against him/her. For example, if your partner tells you that s/he struggled with an issue (i.e., gambling, anger, debt, etc.) or made a decision they will always regret (i.e., tried or got into drugs, had an abortion, was arrested for assault many years ago, etc.) it’s vital that you not use that issue against her/him at a later date.
Don’t throw it back at your partner in moments of anger or use it against him/her
later to stress your point. (i.e., “I don’t know why you’re so mad at me, it’s not
like I was ever arrested for assault--like you!”). This kind of
behavior will almost always come back to haunt you and it is hitting below the
• Complaints or criticisms are to be taken seriously and not turned around on your partner in a defensive maneuver to protect your own ego, pride, etc. When your partner speaks to you about something you did that s/he didn’t like, it is your job to hear what is being said, own your part, and repair it when necessary. The last thing you want to do is turn your partner’s complaint into your complaint. That is selfish, frustrating, and non-relational to say the least. If you have a complaint about your partner make it when it happens, do not make it in response to your partner’s complaint about you.
• Acknowledgements of mistakes are to be treated with kindness and gratitude not held against him/her in the future. When your partner takes responsibility for his/her behavior (i.e., “You’re right I wasn’t totally honest with you.”; “I know there are times when I can be lazy. I’m sorry.” Etc.) say thank you and ask him/her for any repair move you may need. Do not use this information against your partner either now or three weeks from now (i.e., “Even you said you’re lazy. See, you don’t do anything around here!”).
If you want your partner to take responsibility for his/her behaviors, you have to
take responsibility for yours: be a safe listener.
Remember that communication is a pivotal skill couples need to master in order to have healthy intimacy and a healthy relationship. This starts with creating a safe environment for communication to occur. One aspect of safety is learning to be a safe listener. Once you master this art, you may notice your partner sharing differently.
Challenge: Review the ground rules above, choose the area you are the weakest in, and focus on that rule for the next few weeks. Once you strengthen that area, move to the next one. Continue this until you are strong regarding all of the above ground rules.