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Improving Communication in Your Relationships: Learning How to Listen

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Author: Emily Kensington

As a couples therapist, I don't always give relationship advice. In fact, at its core therapy is a practice of listening and "presence." Often, just the understanding ear of a psychotherapist can be soothing to clients who are experiencing stress. As a result, learning how to listen is a requirement for any effective psychotherapist. Ever cry your heart out to a good friend, and afterwards felt much better even though they may have said very little or anything at all? The reason you felt relieved is because it works wonders.

Unfortunately, we live in a society of "rugged individualism" where many like to be the center of attention, to publicly and unashamedly speak of their problems but rarely caring about the needs of others. (Conflict-driven Reality television and TV talk shows are perfect examples of this.) As a long-time couples and marriage therapist I've seen how a basic inability to listen to ones' partner can spell doom for a relationship. Indeed, learning how to listen to your mate is a fundamental part of any successful union.

The good news is that learning to listen is easy! First, pay attention to your partner. When communicating with someone, directly face them in order to show interest. In fact, by showering your undivided attention upon your partner you show that you value them in a way that few others have.

Maintain eye contact. Your body posture should indicate that not only is your partner important to you, but that they are, at that moment, the only person in the world that matters. Sit down next to them if they're sitting, don't stand.

In addition, remain cognizant of non-verbal behavior. In fact, 90% of communication is non-verbal, so be aware of changing facial expressions such as frowns, a raised eyebrow, or oncoming tears. Importantly, if you don't bother to notice any of those things then you are missing what is TRULY being said! Remember, take it slow. Don't rush through conversations just to get back to doing something else. Turn off all distractions such as the television or radio. Try helping your partner to further elaborate by asking open-ended questions in order to gain more information, and closed-ended questions to increase clarification.

Finally, one important piece of relationship advice: Don't become defensive. If your knee jerk reaction is to get defensive when someone criticizes you, this will greatly hinder your ability to truly hear what your partner is saying.

In conclusion, you have been equipped with some tools and techniques that will enable you to better communicate with your partner. Learning to listen is a skill that takes a little time to master, but try it and I promise you'll see positive results!

About the author: Emily Kensington is a psychotherapist specializing in couples and marital therapy. Her website is

Copyright 2007. Reprint granted ONLY with author's link, name, and full credit noted.

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