There are few things more insulting than having a long conversation with someone, only to realize that he or she hasn't been paying the slightest bit of attention to you. When that someone is your partner, it's even more hurtful. It conveys the message that he or she simply doesn't care enough to devote attention to the conversation. Many a fight has started with the accusation "you're not listening to me!" for a reason -- good communication is probably the most important thing in a happy, successful relationship.
Many relationship experts advocate active listening instead of passive hearing. Active listening involves several steps beyond just physically taking in someone's words. First, you stop whatever you're doing while your partner is talking -- that means turning off the TV or stepping away from the computer, no multi-tasking allowed. Don't think about what you're doing at work tomorrow, or try to anticipate what the other person is saying so you can quickly formulate a response. Just look at your partner and really listen, paying attention to nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language.
You also have to demonstrate that you've been listening. A conversation with your partner isn't a debate or a battle that you must try to win. When he or she's talking, it's about him or her, not you -- let go of your ego. Encourage the other person to elaborate. Repeat back to him or her what's been said -- not word for word, because that's just annoying, but by paraphrasing. Try to express what emotions you think are at play. For example, "It sounds like you got upset when that happened." If you're not sure exactly what's going on, encourage him or her to elaborate.
Here are a few things to avoid if you want to help your partner feel understood, accepted and loved:
- Passing judgment
- Giving advice (unless it's asked for)
Now that you've established the importance of friendship, fighting fair and communicating, there's another potential stumbling block that can incorporate all of these. When you're in a relationship, it's important to maintain collective goals.