True listening is hard work and takes discipline. Listening also takes practice and a lot of commitment. We all know that it’s easier to talk than to listen. Following are some things I’ve learned about true listening.

Listening Takes Time

Listening is best done when we stop other activities and limit other noises. This means stop what we are doing and concentrate — even when we are pressed for time in our busy lives. If we really want to know what makes our spouse tick, we have to take time to let them talk. In fact, if we mean business about bettering our relationship, we will make listening our highest priority.

Listening Requires Focused Attention
Many events in life do not require 100% concentration because our minds can receive more than one stimulus at a time. But if we want to be sure we are catching every bit of the message our mate is sending, we must focus totally on the feelings they are sharing. Focusing includes total eye contact, and letting your mate know they have your full attention. Our attention tells them that we’d rather be with them than anywhere else. When they feel confident that they are cared for, they will more likely disclose their feelings and thoughts.

Listening Means, “Be Quiet”
To learn what is really going on with our mates, we have to be quiet and let them do the talking. That’s hard when we have so much wisdom to dispense, so many observations to make, and so many experiences to share. However, information is not what they need right now. They simply need a listening ear. Keep reminding yourself, “It’s not about me — it’s about my mate.”

The Art of “Drawing Them Out”
When we actively listen to our mate, we may sense they’re having trouble saying what’s on their minds. They can’t find the proper words, or aren’t sure how much is safe to talk about. If they hesitate, we may think they’ve said all they’re going to say — but that’s probably not so. This is the time to practice “drawing them out”. Try rephrasing the last comment made by your spouse. By repeating their last thought, you will assure your mate that you are listening and you will often spur more talk.

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Don’t Pass Judgement
A major hindrance to self-disclosure is the fear of judgment. Perhaps the issue with which your spouse is struggling is one you have previously condemned — “You always act just like your mother/father.” Or, “Don’t start that complaining again,” or “Are you going to bring that up again? I thought we settled that!” Your past history will make your spouse fear that you will be overly harsh. It is important to convince your spouse that you want to hear his or her viewpoint — and that you will listen without condoning or condemning.

Keep Confidentiality
Some spouses are afraid to communicate for fear of what their mate will do with the information. They may be afraid it will be used against them — or shared with other people. Your mates’ struggles — whether problems at work, fear of the future, unattainable dreams and goals, feelings of rejection, or temptation — must be treated with the greatest of respect. When they entrust this information to you, it is not something others need to know, nor is it something to use as a weapon against our mate.

No Need To Be “The Answer Man”
A mistake people often make is to think they must give solutions for their mates’ problems. As easy as it may be for us to clearly see what our mates should do or feel — answers are not what will help most at this point. For now we should listen, not give wise advice. Before we start talking, we should be very sure we’ve listened and listened and listened. When we do finally speak, we must do so carefully. Listen for God’s timing for when it is right to give advice. True listening opens the door to deep communication and bonding.

Reprinted by permission by Jim Conway Ph.D. Copyright 2000.

Read more from Jim at Midlife Dimensions.