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Blocks to Listening

Great information taken from Couple skills: Making your relationship work (2nd ed.). McKay, et. al (2006) that I implement in couple counseling.

There is much more to listening than merely being quiet while your partner talks. Real listening is distinguished by your intention. If your intention is to understand, enjoy, learn from, or help your partner, then you are really listening.

For many couples, real listening is rare. They indulge in pseudo-listening. In pseudo-listening, your intention is not to understand, enjoy, learn, or help. Your intentions are most likely to defend yourself and answer with witty comments to hurt, or get your point across.

Identify the blocks that you recall using to avoid truly listening to your partner:

  1. Mind reading. You are mind reading when you disregard or distrust what your partner is actually saying and instead try to figure out what he or she “really means.” Mind readers give too much importance to subtle cues such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and posture. They ignore the actual content of what their partner is saying in favor of their own assumptions.
  2. Rehearsing. You’re so busy rehearsing what you’ll say next that you never really hear what your partner is telling you. Sometimes you may rehearse whole chains of dialogue.
  3. Filtering. Filtering means that you listen to some things but not others. You may listen for signs that your partner is angry or sad or anxious and then tune out when you sense that your partner is okay and that you aren’t expected to respond to any emotional trouble. Filtering can also work to exclude things you don’t want to hear.
  4. Judging. Judging means that you have stopped listening to your partner because of some negative judgment, or that you only listen for the purpose of assigning blame and putting negative labels on your partner. If you think that your partner is stupid or bigoted, you stop listening- or you listen only to gather fresh evidence of your partner’s stupidity or bigotry.
  5. Daydreaming. Everyone’s attention wanders. When you’ve been with someone for many years, it’s especially easy to stop listening and drift away into your own fantasies. If you find it harder and harder to pay attention to your partner, it may be a danger sign that YOU are avoiding contact or certain topics.
  6. Advising. Your partner barely has time to speak a complete sentence before you jump in with your advice. Your search for the right solution and your urge to fix everything deafens you to your partner’s simple need to be heard.
  7. Sparring. You listen only to disagree, argue, or debate. You take a position and defend it, regardless of what your partner says. In many troubled relationships, sparring is the standard mode of communication.
  8. Being Right. This block protects you from hearing anything that suggests you are less than perfect. To avoid suggestions that you are wrong, you will lie, shout, change the subject, justify, quibble, make excuses, accuse, or otherwise fight off criticism.
  9. Derailing. You change the subject or joke it off whenever the conversation becomes too personal or threatening. By misdirection or humor you avoid listening to your partner’s serious concerns.
  10.  Placating. You are too quick to agree. As soon as your partner expresses doubt, irritation, or anxiety, you jump in with – “Yes, you’re right, I’m sorry, I’ll fix it.” You are so concerned with being nice, supportive, and agreeable that you don’t give your partner enough time to fully express his or her thought.

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