Marriage and communication

Exercise for Couples

Reciprocal listening is a powerful tool for couples who need to improve their communication. Couples who try this may become aware of how limited their communication has been in the past. They also learn an effective technique, which can increase the respect, trust, and intimacy of their relationship. This exercise may seem structured and perhaps contrived at first but stay with it. The rewards can be immense.

The couple decides on a minor disagreement that they need to talk about. Each partner takes turns being either the speaker or the listener. The speaker has five minutes to speak without interruption. As a speaker, talk about the problem as you see it. Present your argument briefly and stick to the point. Be sure to use “I statements” to present your views and don’t place the blame on your partner (that is, just talk about how you feel about the conflict without putting your partner in a defensive position. After five minutes your partner (the listener) will verbally summarize what he or she has heard. This allows the speaker to let the listener know if anything has been left out or if it has been misinterpreted. Keep going until the speaker feels that the point has been completely heard.

As the listener, pay close attention to what is being said and try to attune yourself to your partner’s needs. When you summarize what your partner has said, make sure you don’t disagree, argue, or criticize. Just repeat what you have heard.

Now switch positions. The speaker becomes the listener and the listener, the speaker. Follow the same procedures until the new speaker feels satisfied that his or her position has been understood. It is important to avoid letting this exercise turn into an argument. Because this is such a powerful way of learning to listen and to communicate better, many people prefer to try it with a therapist present at least for the first few attempts.

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT