Show each other you're listening

Q My husband and I are failing to communicate. We've been married for three years and they have been mostly happy, although in that short time, we have weathered a few storms.

I've been proud that we've worked together as a team through tough times and that instead of being pulled apart, we've recommitted to one another.

But lately it seems like all we do is fight, fight, fight. We used to be passionate and have great make-up sex, but our desire for one another has mutually disappeared and there doesn't seem to be much holding us together right now.

My husband says I need to always be right and he's sick of it. I say he doesn't ever talk to me or listen to me and my needs.

How can we fix our relationship if we can't even talk?


A The question really needs to be how can you repair your relationship if you can't really hear one another?

Without effective listening skills - a key ingredient in open and healthy communication, you can't feel close or understood.

Maintaining and nurturing intimacy then becomes a difficult challenge for you both.

It's great that you have identified that main problem in your marriage, which is not how you feel about one another, but your inability to communicate well, and it's also terrific that you recognise your strengths as a couple.

This is a strength not all couples have and it is a solid attribute to help you continue to grow together and stay married for many years to come.

However, you do need to practise healthy and effective communication skills if you want a happy, functional and balanced long-term marriage.

Even in your letter, I see you have each marked off your arguments and emotional territories.

Digging your heels in, speaking louder and more frequently, or staunchly sticking to your argumentative guns will not make you more heard.

Flexibility and listening are required and perhaps what you most need right now is to try a couple's exercise in reflective listening.

Many therapists argue that reflective listening is the most powerful communication skill you can have.

By reflecting back to your partner what they said, you demonstrate to you partner that you heard more than the words they said.

You actually prove you understand their thoughts and feelings and heard their point of view.

To simply say to your partner, "I understand" or "Okay, I hear you" does not prove you heard or understood.

But reflective listening, in which you put their words into your own, does.

To effectively do reflective listening, you need to put your own thoughts and feelings aside, let go of the concept of right and wrong and listen with your heart.


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