How to Listen Better.

Why is it so hard to listen sometimes?

Has your partner ever looked at you and said, "All I want you to do is listen!" Did it seem to you like you were listening just fine, but they still weren't buying that you got it? We tend to think that listening should be a simple task, but it's undoubtedly the most common mistake that distressed couples make when communicating.

Listening is actually quite a complex thing we're asking our brains to do at any point, much less when we're in distress. Did you know, for example, that when your spouse asks you to listen to them, that you're actually multitasking? Even when you're not doing that thing we all do - listen to react instead of listening to understand - you still have to manage whatever emotion you're feeling while you attend to what your partner is saying.

In other words, if you feel emotionally triggered by what your partner is saying, it's very easy to slip out of the task of listening and into the task of reacting to your current emotional state: anger, jealousy, hurt or frustration.

It's easy to feel emotions like this when our partners tell us something we don't want to hear. When couples therapy works well, it helps couples manage whatever is going on inside them while they listen to their partners. If, for example, your partner has something difficult to tell you, like something they don't like about you or something they don't like about what you're doing, it's hard to remain attentive to them.

Instead, we want to fight back.

We want to defend ourselves. We want to listen to the flaws in their logic so we can pick it apart. And we do this feeling totally justified because what our partners say to us hurts.

But listening to your partner while they have something difficult to say, something that emotionally triggers you, is what listening is all about. It's real human interaction. Hard work. If it were easy, it'd be called Snapchat.

So I created this guide to help you understand what's actually happening when you're trying to listen to your partner, why it's difficult and what to do about it. Instead of beating yourself up when you don't hit the mark (or your partner for that matter), discover how to learn from the areas where you fall short and grow from there.

Listening is hard work. We don't give the difficulty of it enough respect. Click on the image above to download a free PDF that you can keep for yourself to remind you how to overcome common listening challenges.

Dr. Mathis Kennington