According to Dr.’s John and Julie Gottman, leading relationship experts, listening to our partners is a sure way to increase intimacy because it fosters trust and love. When the Gottmans talk about listening, they mean actually hearing your partner’s emotions and understanding their experience. And, they recommend doing so, at least once a day. So to become what the Gottmans call a “Great Listener,” try some of the following suggestions.
First, prepare yourself by shifting your focus away from yourself and what may be going on for you today – physically turn towards them, face them, make eye contact, and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. To really listen, hear their pain. There is longing in negative emotions and you want to understand that longing. You can do so by listening and reflecting back to them what you hear without trying to fix the issue or take responsibility for the emotions. Correctly identifying those emotions and their experience, acknowledging both, and checking in with them that you got it right is key. When you ask questions to really understand, be benevolently curious. This means doing so without judgment or presupposition, being very present in the moment.
As you are correctly identifying how you partner is feeling and what they are experiencing, don’t forget to share how you are feeling in the moment as well. This type of conversation takes courage because it requires both of you to be vulnerable with each other, which comes at a risk of feeling hurt if we are not gentle and respectful in what we say, and how we say it. The more you and your partner practice this kind of conversation, the more you will understand and trust one another. See the video below for a thorough explanation of how to use reflections in communication.