We met at the Campbell’s house last night and had a really great time!  Janee made a delightful dinner of spaghetti, green beans and garlic bread that we shared while having some much needed catching up time.  A very cool announcement was made from the Warren family, and we celebrated together.

We had an in-depth discussion about active listening within the marriage relationship.  Here is an outline of what we talked about:

Active listening is listening to someone with the desire to understand them fully.  Here are three major components of active listening:

  • Posture – This component focuses on the atmosphere that must be set for active listening to be most effective.  Remove all distractions.  You can’t listen to your spouse when you’re watching television or playing on the computer.  Make good eye contact, leaning your body slightly toward that person, so that they know that they have your full attention.
  • Listening – Focus on what is being said without focusing on your own response.  Advanced listening involves listening for the emotion implicit in what the other person is saying.
  • Responding/Reflecting – If you know that you don’t understand what is being said, ask for clarification.  Otherwise, a beginning active listener can simply repeat what was being said in his/her own words.  Once again, the advanced listener can reflect emotions along with words.

We also talked about a specific method for utilizing active listening: the speaker listener technique.  This is particularly useful in the context of a fight.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Have an object that denotes who the speaker is at the current time.  Make it a soft object, so that if an argument ensues, the object will not cause harm if thrown.
  • When using this technique, only one issue at a time is discussed.  More than that can be overwhelming.
  • Use a specific event.  “You always” or “you never” statements are not helpful and can also be overwhelming.
  • The “speaker” identifies the issue that he/she is upset about using short, specific sentences.  A good model for this is:  I felt (emotion word) when you (specific action).  For example: I felt angry when you left the toilet seat up.
  • The speaker continues until he/she feels like he/she fully addressed the issue.
  • In the meantime, the listener gives a reflection after each brief statement that the speaker says.  None of these reflections should include a response from the listener.  Simply reflect on what the speaker is saying.
  • After the speaker is done, the listener becomes the speaker and has  a chance to respond.
  • As soon as you realize that you were in the wrong, apologize.  This makes things easier in the long-run.  We talked at length about what makes a good apology, and the conclusion that we came to is that each person may need something different in an apology.  Ask your spouse what they need.  Never okay is the passive/aggressive apology: “I’m sorry that I was just trying to fit in with your family.  I’ll never do THAT again.”  Also, your apology should deal with YOUR behavior. “I’m sorry that you….” is not correct.
  • After both sides have been listened to thoroughly and apologies have been given appropriately, you can come up with a plan of action.  The plan could be as simple as, “I won’t do that again.”  Other issues require a bit more thought.  In my opinion, it is better for the offender to come up with a plan of action, rather than the offended.  For example, Adam hates it when I leave my cooking trash on the counter tops.  My plan of action is to put the trash can closer to my cooking area when I’m cooking.  If Adam had come up with that, I might have been less likely to do it.

Practice this at home with your spouse or with other close relationships.  This is a wonderful way to learn more about each other!