• “You’re not listening! I keep trying to tell you… “ or “You aren’t hearing me. How many times do I have to tell you…?” Do those sound familiar? Have you been the one to exclaim those types of statements? Or, have you been on the receiving end of those? Or maybe both. And, why does this happen in the first place?

    1. You aren’t fully paying attention. Maybe you are in the middle of making dinner, or helping with math homework, or trying to meet an important work deadline. If this happens, ask your loved one if the conversation can be postponed, and then set a reasonable time to bring it back up, maybe in 30 minutes? Or after the kids go to bed? Or, maybe you are at a place where you can stop doing what you are doing, look your spouse in the eye to let them know you are listening, apologize, and ask them to start over.

    2. You interrupt. I am famous for doing this with my husband. I’ll get really excited about the topic, and I’ll jump in with my two cents. Which is okay, if you are a “finish each other’s sentences” type of couple, but my husband is NOT. Nor is he too amused by my (“squirrel!”) excitement when he is trying to finish a thought. I have to remind myself to really focus on what he is trying to say without anticipating what he is trying to say next.

    3. You are listening to respond instead of listening to understand. Repeat that to yourself for a second. You are listening only so that you know how to respond. You are not listening to try to understand what your spouse is actually saying. I know that is kind of a lot to take in. And, it doesn’t feel good to admit we do that from time to time. What that may look like is thinking the “yeah buts” or the “well you should” in your mind while they are talking, instead of seeking to understand why they have brought the topic up in the first place. Instead of responding to these hot topics with your best defense, respond with “help me understand…” or “what did you mean by…” and paraphrase back to them what they said. What is behind the complaint? How are they hurt? Is it really about the laundry? Or are they needing to reconnect or feel appreciated and valued?

    4. You are starting all your conversations with a “you” instead of an “I.” Which statement would you hear better? “You never help out with the chores. I bet you don’t even know where the laundry room is.” or “I am feeling really overwhelmed right now about everything. Work has been crazy, my boss expects me to finish that project by Wednesday, and the laundry keeps piling up. Would you please start a load of laundry when you get home?” A good formula for this one is “I feel (name the feeling) about (describe the situation causing this feeling, but be careful not to just list your partner’s personality flaws), and I need (describe how your partner can help you feel better about the issue you are describing).

    I hope you try these techniques out with your spouse. You may just come away with a better understanding of each other and find yourselves getting along better. Please let me know how it goes!

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