Couples and Communication

Active communication requires one person to talk and the other to listen… And both to do their part well.

Listening is the other half of communication. Our first thought, when we think about communication, maybe to consider the speaker’s ability to convey ideas effectively. What we forget is that without a listener the speaker may as well be talking to the wind. Just as effective speaking is an acquired skill, so is good listening. Some do it better than others. But all of us can learn to enrich our own listening skills.

Think about what happens when you hear someone speak. You pay attention to the person’s appearance, to activity in the background, to what you did earlier in the day, to a conversation you had with someone else, or to your counterargument, and how you will present it. Your mind flits from topic to topic as you take in only fragments of what the other person says. It seems a wonder that people understand each other, as well as they, do. The speaker conveys only a portion of the real meaning of an intended idea- and the listener may pick up on only a fraction of the information transmitted.

We think we know what the speaker was trying to say, but often we are absolutely wrong. (Have you ever played the “rumor game” in a large circle? The first person whispers a message to the next in line, and this message does from person to person until it gets to the end of the circle. Something like “two kittens were playing with a ball of string: easily mutates into “the lions sleeps tonight” as the message is relayed around the circle.)

Listening is itself a form of communication. Listening to another person sends the message that you care and that you are genuinely interested in the other person’s ideas. Without the ability to listen effectively, true intimacy and mutual respect between partners, two of the hallmarks of a successful relationship, are not even possible. When you fail to listen to your partner, you may impart the message that he or she doesn’t count, that you are the one with all the knowledge, and that you lack respect for your partner. A good listener sends the message that he or she is interested in the world and to new ideas and life experiences. To listen well is one way to show you can love well.

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT