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How to Deepen Intimacy through the Power of Empathic Listening

A frequent complaint of the couples I work with is that one or both partners feel the other is no longer really listening. Learn about the different levels of listening that occur in relationships and discover the listening skills you and your partner will need to deepen intimacy and create a stronger union.   

"I hate having to compete with the TV or computer for my husband's attention. He used to be such a wonderful listener. I feel like I'm not important enough to him anymore." ~Jennifer

"It's really frustrating. I'll tell my girlfriend something and by the next day, she's forgotten what I said. I've given up trying." ~Marcel


The Importance of Listening in Marriage

Speaking is easy. The real challenge for couples is listening.

 
We all want our spouses or partners to listen better—to hear not only our words but also what lies beneath the surface of language: our unspoken needs, desires and fears. Such in-depth listening allows couples to feel understood, appreciated and connected to each other. Too many couples lose sight of just how important effective listening is to the health of their marriage or relationship.    

The skill of effective listening is endangered. 

A frequent complaint of the couples I work with is that one or both partners feel the other is no longer attentive or really paying attention. When in-depth listening is lost, the fall-out is significant: one or both partners might feel marginalized; there may be increased conflict, lingering resentments, or emotional withdrawal; in severe cases, intimacy might break down completely or the couple may feel deep despair or a loss of hope.   

The mutual understanding that comes from real listening is essential for your relationship to evolve.

 
Why aren't you listening to me?!

Like a muscle that requires exercise, your listening skills need to be worked on and regularly used for best results. Many couples mistakenly assume that listening should be a natural part of love and require little effort. 

The first step in becoming a really good listener is to learn about the different kinds of listening skills. While the following list isn't exhaustive, it’s a good place to start in figuring out what kind of listener you are (or what kind of listener you'd like become).

 
Levels of Listening:

Surface Listening

This is the type of listening that occurs in many social settings. A minimum of attentive energy is required. For instance, the cashier asks, "Hi, how are you?" and you automatically respond, "Fine, how about you?" Here you listen just enough to know how to respond in a socially sanctioned and appropriate way.

When you're listening in surface mode, you have little investment in the speaker's feelings or opinions. You may end up being a surface listener in your relationship for a variety of reasons: distraction, feeling overwhelmed, anger at your partner, and indifference and/or hopelessness about your relationship can all result in surface listening.  When you've totally forgotten that your wife asked you to pick up milk after the gym, you were probably listening at a surface level (if you were listening at all).


Action-oriented Listening

At this level, you realize that the speaker will require or ask something from you. Here your goal is mainly to follow-through on what is being asked of you. While this level requires more attentive energy than surface listening, you can still be preoccupied and emotionally distant throughout the conversation and come away with the gist of what is being asked of you. When you are flying out the door in the morning and you acknowledge that it's your turn to pick up the twins from daycare, you're in the action-oriented mode of listening.  

 

Attentive Listening

In attentive listening, the speaker has gained your genuine interest. Here you are more fully present for your partner and the message sent has an impact on you—either because the person sending the message is important to you or the message itself is of interest. Most -- if not all -- of your mental energy is given to your spouse/partner when you listen at this level. When you and your partner reach this level of listening, you will share a heightened sense of being heard, understood and valued. These are the ingredients that will allow intimacy to grow.  

 

Empathic Listening

 Empathic listening is the deepest form of listening you can achieve. At this level, you leave your own subjective experience and begin to feel what it must be like to be your spouse or partner in a particular moment. Empathic listening requires several skills that must be practiced:

 
~Full, unencumbered attention to what your spouse/partner is saying and feeling;

~The ability to place your own opinions, issues and agendas on hold;

~Remaining open to the full experience of your partner, even when your typical reactions differ from what your partner is going through.

 
Empathic listening isn't always easy to achieve—this mode of listening requires the most from you. It's impossible to be worrying about tomorrow's job interview and be empathically present for your partner.  Preoccupation is the death-knell of empathic listening. While it may feel like a challenge to reach this level, the benefits to your relationship are well worth the effort. Mutual empathy feeds intimacy and creates a depth of connection that many couples describe as transformative. 

Most couples bounce between all these levels of listening and each level has a place in your relationship. Different circumstances require different levels of listening: It isn't necessary or helpful to move into empathic listening when your husband called to say he's running late, while surface listening is problematic when your wife is affectionately and sincerely saying, "You're the best thing that ever happened to me." Knowing which level of listening is required is both an art and a skill.

When your partner approaches you with something that is clearly important to him/her, you should work toward attentive and empathic levels of listening.

The challenge for you is to work on your attentive and empathic listening skills (even if you're convinced that your partner is perpetually stuck at the surface or action-oriented level). Whether you choose to work on your listening skills alone or with your spouse/partner, remember that all skills require effort and persistence before they become a habit.

To discover other ways to create a deeper, more intimate relationship visit www.StrengthenYourRelationship.com and sign up for Dr. Nicastro’s free Relationship Toolbox Newsletter.

As a bonusArticle Search, you will receive the popular free reports: "The four mindsets that can topple your relationship" and "Relationship self-defense: Control the way you argue…before your arguments control you."  

 

Source: Free Articles from ArticlesFactory.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a relationship and intimacy coach with fifteen years experience helping individuals and couples live more fulfilling lives.  Dr. Nicastro's relationship advice has appeared on television, radio and in national magazines.



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