My wife and I recently got in a fight about pajamas. There weren’t pajamas for my daughter in her drawer. But it wasn’t about pajamas. It was about roles, household duties, and fairness.
Have you ever had the pajama fight? You know it’s ridiculous, but it really matters to you. It’s tapped into something beyond pajamas, it’s what we cover in couples counseling often.
In marriage and long term relationships, there is one skill that will change everything. If you master this skill, you’re more likely to stay married, have long term health, and be happier. Also, you may avoid needing to come to couple counseling as frequently or get more out of your marriage therapy.
Marriage reseracher, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been studying couples for 40 years. They are able to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy. This is because they have found the exact formula that people fall into to tear apart their relationships. They teach marriage and family therapists how to do this.
So what’s the skill? Active listening.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is a skill where your main purpose is to full understand your partner. There’s no judgement, only inquiry. Example questions/statements might be:
“Why is this important to you?”
“Tell me more about that.”
“Is there any more to this that is worrying you or stressing you out?
When you’re listening to your partner, your main goal is for them to know that you fully understand their point of view.
What to Say Next
After your partner gives their point of view, you reflect back what you have heard. For example you might say, “You’ve been really busy with the kids, cleaning the house, and your new job, so you didn’t put pajamas in the drawer, did I capture your perspective?”
After asking if you captured everything, your partner may clarify, change, or adjust what they said. It’s a time for them to work out exactly what their point of view is. Some people are verbal processors so they may need to say it out loud a few times. Others might have to think about it. Maybe they didn’t say it right the first time.
Connect with Their Feelings
Lastly you want to connect with your partner’s feelings. How do you see yourself in their story. An example might be, “I would find it hard to keep up with the household tasks too if I had all that on my plate.”
During this phase, you don’t have to agree with everything your partner said, just find anything that you can relate to. Where do you see yourself in their story? What feelings did they express that you feel also?
There are tons of ways to screw this up. You could interrupt, share your opinion, or put your own agenda into your summary. People don’t usually compromise and take action unless they feel that they have been understood. That is why the single biggest thing you can do in your relationships is to learn to employ active listening, even if it’s about pajamas.
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner and a licensed counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in downtown Traverse City. Mental Wellness Counseling helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples, to schedule an appointment go to www.MentalWellnessCounseling.com