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How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

Are You A Good Listener?

Listening with intent and genuine interest is a skill that, unfortunately, most of us are not born with. This skill is what ultimately builds connection and develops a reassurance in our relationships (romantic, platonic, and professional!). Did you know that most toxic relationship issues (no matter what the topic) come from a disconnect in communication? It’s true! As a Couples Counselor, I have worked with many couples who are going through these exact same disconnects in their relationship, and I want to offer you practical listening skills that you can practice to become a better, more effective listener.

The wonderful thing about diversity is that we all come from unique backgrounds. These different backgrounds make up different cultures, values, and ideals we hold as individuals. However, when you bring two (often very different) people together, there sometimes is a sort of tug-of-war into whose values are more authentic and which ideals the relationship will hold. Since we all have distinct and very personal views of “right and wrong”, this makes hearing other opinions often challenging.

Listening to your partner without judgment is essential to building connection, rebuilding trust, and fostering an environment where a relationship can grow and thrive! We all want to be heard, and when we aren’t we feel as though our emotions and needs are often overlooked. Not listening to your partner can result in power struggles, negative behaviors, resentment, and ultimately…separation.

You don’t want to wait for things to “just get better” in your relationship, because they won’t without intentionally taking the steps for improvement (both personally and as a couple). The good news is, you can start today! Here are six practical and mindful ways that you can improve your listening skills while making yourself a more responsive and connected partner.

TAKE BEING RIGHT OR WRONG OUT OF THE EQUATION

Your values are no better or worse than your partner’s values. An active listener will work hard not to judge his or her partner’s emotions.

Needs and emotions are never “correct” or “incorrect” they simply just are. Discussions that lead to black and white thinking, right or wrong, are usually about asserting control. Control then leads to blame, anger, and resentment, not connection. A partner who feels judged or is “wrong” in an argument will feel invalidated and unheard. A listener’s job is to listen, not judge. If a listener intends to hear and not control, then the result is better connection.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO AGREE ALL THE TIME

Our culture has taught us the fallacy that a healthy couple never disagrees or gets into arguments. In reality, many healthy couples disagree about important topics regarding their relationship, and no couple will ever agree entirely about everything.

Authentic listening comes from hearing and validating ideas you don’t agree with, as this shows respect for your partner. The goal is to listen and accept, and not necessarily agree, which can lead to the compromise that’s needed for couples to navigate difficult times and topics together.

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS FROM THE CONVERSATION

For most of us, this means putting the cell phone down, turning off the TV, or walking away from the computer screen. Non-verbal cues are incredibly important as a listener. If you are distracted and disengaged, then clearly you cannot validate your partner (who may feel they’re talking to a figurative wall).

To get even more real with your partner, use non-verbal cues such as touch, eye contact, and body language(as well as the verbal cue of vocal tone). These cues are what babies learn in their early development to feel safe. These same cues will calm an adult’s limbic system – allowing more safety in sharing emotions and needs. Your non-verbal cues of acceptance and security are not just a crucial listening skill, but also a critical skill for building any relationship.

CONTINUALLY PRACTICE EMPATHY

Empathy is being able to understand another person’s experience, and it’s the opposite of judgment. Your partner’s emotions and needs are real and often come from painful, deep experiences. Just as you have your own needs and emotions based off of your experiences, so does your partner.

Try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes to feel and understand their pain, or access your pain and examine how you’ve dealt with it. Everyone at some point will experience a difficult situation or circumstance, your partner included, and showing empathy and understanding will allow for more in-depth conversations and connection between the two of you.

LISTEN FULLY BEFORE FORMULATING A RESPONSE

Few behaviors invalidate more quickly than interrupting. Interrupting usually involves fear or a lack of emotional safety on the listener’s part. This behavior, however, will cause your partner to believe that you feel your opinion has more validity than theirs. Try not to rehearse a response in your head while your partner is sharing, as that disengages you from empathy and feeling what your partner is trying to share with you. Let the conversation happen organically and without distraction or interruption of preplanned responses (that could ultimately cause more pain than healing).

VALIDATE YOUR PARTNER

Many of my clients in couple’s counseling have revealed to me that feeling unheard is one of their biggest triggers to pain and anger.  So how do you show your partner that you genuinely have heard their emotions and needs?

One way that has been proven to be effective is to repeat (in your own words) what you think you heard your partner say to you, and to ask if you heard them correctly. Be careful not to infer your interpretations into what your partner said, as those may be incorrect and invalidating – simply repeat what you heard. If you don’t get everything, that’s okay! You can ask your partner to repeat what you may have missed. This is even more effective when using your non-verbal cues for safety.

IT TAKES PRACTICE…

Listening can be a difficult skill to learn, and you won’t perfect this skill in just one conversation. If you continue to practice these six steps to improve your listening skills you will see improvement overtime (and it will get easier and more natural too!).

Self-care and general happiness are also tied to helping with the development of listening skills, as well as therapeutic techniques such as thought stopping and grounding activities. However, those who have suffered from trauma may have difficulty accessing these skills, and individual therapy to process and heal from the trauma may be needed to listen safely and with compassion. It’s true, listening can be difficult, but the rewards of being able to do so are numerous: clarity, understanding, emotional honesty, and better connection. You have the power to make changes with your listening skills and to show your partner that you can take that next step and truly hear them with empathy and understanding!

All the best,
Seth Bender, M.A., LMFTC

Seth Bender, M.A., LMFTC is a marriage counselor, therapist, and life coach who helps people create deeper relationships, heal from difficult life experiences, and increase their confidence. His warm, non-judgmental approach makes it safe to discover new things about yourself, and take positive action to change your life.

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Read More By Seth Below!

Dating Advice, Happiness, Love, Relationship Advice, Self Improvement / Personal Growth, Seth Bender, SethBender

How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

Listening with the intent to talk with your partner versus talking at your partner is a skill that we all need in order to build better connection with our significant other. Here are six tips from a marriage counselor that you can start practicing today to improve your listening skills! Read More

How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

How To Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

Always Feeling a Little Dissatisfied With Your Relationship?

Sometimes in couples counseling, I see that my clients’ dissatisfaction can be fueled by disappointment when their partner doesn’t meet their expectations or when they feel like they can’t possibly meet their partner’s expectations either. And sometimes the expectations they put on their relationships are simply unrealistic. These unrealistic expectations can be dangerous to the relationship, however, they can also be used to help strengthen the relationship when we begin to understand what these expectations actually mean and what to do with them!

Where Do Our Expectations Come From?

Expectations can come from previous relationships or couples we’ve looked up to in the past, but often times they can come from what we see in the media. Hollywood seems to be a breeding-ground for relationship expectations: the guy who suddenly appears at your window with a boombox ready to serenade you, the girl who friend-zoned you for years finally declaring her love and commitment for you, the ultimate happily ever after. Even as children, young girls see prince charming coming in for the rescue at exactly the right moment, and boys see a princess willing and ready to be swept off her feet. So, what are these scenes telling us? What are they doing to our relationships? How dangerous are unrealistic expectations, really?

The Danger in Unrealistic Expectations

In my experience as a therapist, I’ve noticed two main dangers in maintaining these unrealistic expectations. First, unrealistic expectations can set the relationship up for failure. The images of perfect relationships in the media can create a romanticized view of romance, leaving couples to expect the perfect fairy tale ending after every conflict. Real-life relationships, however, are much more complicated than a romantic comedy. Until we can appreciate the complexity, we will always be dissatisfied.

 

Second, my clients have expressed how unrealistic expectations can create distance and distrust in the relationship. The emotional rollercoaster of hopeful expectation and disheveling disappointment is taxing. After a while, it can feel like you or your partner may never come through. The worst part is that you both might be working extremely hard to satisfy each other, but the expectations put on yourself or your partner are distracting you from a deeper connection.

 

In the end, it may sound like we should do away with expectations all together, but actually, expectations can be helpful for a healthy relationship.

 

Expectations Aren’t Always a Bad Thing!

Ultimately, there are two things you should know about having unrealistic expectations: First, this is normal.  Even therapists can be unrealistic with what we expect of our partners! And second, these expectations come from a good place, a place that tells us what we need in our relationships: to feel valued, loved and cared for.  So how can we use expectations to help our relationships grow?

 

The Secret to a Real-Life Happily Ever After

  1. Be honest with yourself… what is this expectation really about? When working with my clients on this topic, I encourage them to identify what their primary need is behind the expectation. The truth is, what we expect from our partner can tell us what we need most from them. For example, if I expect my partner to take me on a fancy date once a week, I may actually be telling him that I need to feel valued. It goes much deeper than expecting a nice date night, it’s expecting a gesture that tells me my partner loves and values me.
  2. Don’t settle, communicate! Having unrealistic expectations doesn’t always mean we have to settle for less, it simply means we should evaluate what we need and effectively communicate that need to our partner. I encourage couples to communicate clearly what they expect and need from each other. Sometimes we can re-adjust our expectations so that they are attainable, but sometimes we need only tell our partner the primary need behind an expectation so that they have a fair shot at coming through!
  3. Acknowledge and celebrate the small stuff. So maybe your partner doesn’t defeat a dragon and defend your honor, but helping out with dishes is just as good. Try to appreciate even the smallest gestures and you’ll be surprised how much your partner cares.

 

Having fair expectations that effectively communicate our needs is essential for a satisfying relationship, so maybe it’s time to explore expectations with your partner. After all, you may not be the star of a Cinderella story, but you still deserve a happily ever after.

Here’s to Healthy Expectations!
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

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How To Fall In Love Again

How To Fall In Love Again

Let’s Talk About Date Night

If you’re in a long-term relationship the time will come when that burning flame of romance and passion dims to a comfortable warmth, it’s inevitable. This doesn’t mean that the romance and passion are over, it’s a new era of your relationship. If you welcome this era with an open mind and a willingness to experience this stage with your partner – you will find that this warmth is not only sustaining to your relationship but welcoming.

I know it can feel discouraging to think back on how alive and in love you once were before the chaos of life, work, and family obligations became primary conversations at the dinner table. Maybe you’re even asking yourself “can it ever be like it once was?”

The truth is, if you’re both willing to put in the effort to keep your relationship “lit” then YES you can have those rekindling experiences in your relationship! In fact, research by love gurus Dr. John and Julie Gottman has even shown that couples on the road to separation were able to rekindle the flame in their relationship. So what’s the secret? You guessed it…date night.

How To Get The Most Out Of Date Night

It’s easy enough to go on a date if time and circumstance allow. However, it can feel like there’s just not enough time in the day for dating, and if you are like most of my couples clients you have a lot going on. It can feel like your only conversations together happen in passing after a long day at work or at the dinner table with the kids. This means that you have to be intentional about date night, and you need to get the most out of your time together (yes, I’m talking quality over quantity).

So, How Do You Do This?

First, it’s important to choose a time that works for both of you. It might feel silly scheduling each other in, but I promise if you schedule your date together you’re both more likely to make it work. So sit down, get those phones out (or paper agendas, whatever works for you!) and pick a time where you are either both free or available to move your schedule around. This might mean getting a babysitter, rearranging less important plans, or simply saying “no” to lesser obligations. But remember, you don’t have to force a date for the sake of dating. Sometimes an hour at the nearby coffee shop can be just as fun — do what works best for you!

Next, be deliberate about the activity you choose to do together. Since time is limited, what you do with that time is important. Try to orchestrate a date that is both fun and meaningful for both of you! The more thought you put into the date, the more you’ll get out of it. Before this starts sounding like a chore, I’m not talking about an itinerary that has every little moment planned out. Think about what you both like to do? Where do you like to go? What have you done in the past you’d like to do again? What are some new places, food, or experiences you would like to try?

Number one rule – make this time about the two of you. You don’t have to stick to any version of a date that isn’t appealing to you. However, the more time you spend together, the easier dating becomes. If this means staying home and watching a movie together, sitting on the balcony with a glass of wine, going out to an upscale restaurant, or checking out the “hottest” club – do what’s right for the both of you.

Looking for some great date night suggestions? Take a look at these simple to elaborate ideas you can implement into your new date night routine.

Fun Simple Suggestions:

  1. Pizza & A Movie Marathon— whether you like the DIY method of making your own homemade pizza or you like someone else to do the work for you (aka…ordering delivery), this is a staple date night. You can choose a movie that has a special meaning to the two of you, or maybe even take turns showing your current or childhood favorites.
  2. Build A Fort or “Camp” Indoors—sometimes laying down together in a new place can be exciting and spark some old feelings you thought were lost!
  3. Go On A Long Walk Together—use this time to hold hands, talk about life, or even get to know each other more. Did you know that exercise helps release brain chemicals that can make you feel happier? So by simply doing something active together can create positive feelings between you and your partner.
  4. Desserts and Discovery—make your favorite desserts together and ask one another questions to get to know each other again. There are various apps that supply questions to ask your partner (I recommend the “Gottman Card Decks” app). You could even get creative and use this desserts and discovery date to spark some sexual intimacy as well!

More Elaborate Suggestions:

  1. Surprise Date Night—if you and your partner have similar schedules, surprise your partner with a spontaneous date (to a restaurant, bowling alley, movies, etc). The excitement of the surprise may spark some long-awaited affection.
  2. A Mini-Vacay—find a babysitter and book a hotel room for the night! A night away from home can be especially rejuvenating for a relationship, especially if you have children.
  3. Take A Class Together—some communities offer classes to the public. Register for a local class together such as art, culinary, dancing, or exercise classes. Some classes may even be free!
  4. Recreate Your First Date—think about your very first date together and recreate it.  Reminiscing on the past may help reignite passion in the present. It can also be helpful to talk through all of the obstacles you have overcome as a couple over the years and take time to appreciate how your partner has contributed to the strengths in your relationship.

Date night can be a helpful tool for relationship health. Whether you’re wanting to stick to something simple or splurge on an elaborate night out, there are many exciting ways to get to know your partner and rediscover the excitement in your relationship. Try some of these suggestions and share your experience with me below in the comments section!

Wishing you the best on your date,
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

Let’s  Talk

Dating Advice, Happiness, Love, Relationship Advice, Self Improvement / Personal Growth, Seth Bender, SethBender

How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

Listening with the intent to talk with your partner versus talking at your partner is a skill that we all need in order to build better connection with our significant other. Here are six tips from a marriage counselor that you can start practicing today to improve your listening skills! Read More

Expectations in a Relationship: Three to Avoid

Expectations in a Relationship: Three to Avoid

Anastacia Sams, M.A., LMFTC is a kind, compassionate marriage counselor, therapist and coach here to help you create your very best life. Ana specializes in helping couples create healthy, happy partnerships, and assisting individuals to heal from past hurts so they can create fulfillment and joy in their lives.

What Are Your Expectations In a Relationship?

Avoid The Three Relationship Expectations That Will Always Mess Things Up

Even before I became a Denver marriage counselor and online couples therapist, I would have described myself as being a “hopeless romantic” and had grand expectations in a relationship. Growing up, I loved the idea of love. To me, the movies I watched made relationships seem easy. You know, the ones where both partners overcome some kind of obstacle to finally realize their need for the other, they confess their undying love then live happily ever after.

I loved this idea growing up, because it just seemed so natural. It seemed like such a stark difference from the real-world relationships that were falling apart all around me. I realized that my idolization of relationships in the movies led me to develop some unrealistic expectations about relationships in my own definition of what a healthy relationship looks like.

Here are some of the biggest expectations in a relationship that may prevent you from experiencing fulfillment with your partner:

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #1: “I have to be perfect.”  

Have you ever felt that you can’t let your partner see your faults or weaknesses?

As a couples therapist, I work with many couples who feel this pressure to be perfect for their partner, oftentimes stating their fear that sharing their weaknesses will somehow diminish the quality of their relationship.

These feelings of insecurity often leads to one or both partners tip-toeing around each other, neglecting to share their needs or fears, forfeiting the opportunity to experience a true, genuine connection with each other.

The myth of perfection is detrimental because it assumes that humans are faultless beings. Which we are not. Furthermore, perfectionism results in unsatisfactory relationships because there is a lack of depth and meaning when you are only sharing what you believe to be the best parts of you. In fact, vulnerability connects. 

A partnership is about giving each other the benefit of the doubt, it’s about sharing life together.  To share life with another person is to offer them your whole heart with the hope that you are both able and willing to accept and love each other fully — accepting the good with the bad.

When this kind of intimacy happens, it creates a true partnership, a bond full of depth and meaning with a person who you feel safe to rely on, through both the difficulties of life and the joys.

Tip: Try making a list of your top three insecurities and sharing them with your partner, while allowing space to validate each other’s vulnerabilities.

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #2: “This relationship is about meeting MY needs.”

Living in an individualistic society, we can often place more emphasis on what I can get out of a relationship, or where our partner is failing to meet my needs.  

What I so often see as a marriage counselor and couples therapist is that both partners have needs. It is important for partners to understand how to meet each other’s needs in a way that provides safety and security in the relationship. I also believe that we can be so focused on what OUR needs are, that we fail to see what our partners are needing from us and wind up neglecting them.

Partnership requires togetherness. Togetherness requires the courage to see beyond yourself into another person’s world. Consider your partner’s perspective, what they need, and how you can fulfill them. Doing this can create a community dynamic in your relationship, where you know that you and your partner are looking out for one another, that you’re not in this alone.

Tip: Try spending a day focusing on filling your partner’s “love tank” by doing what makes them feel most loved without expecting anything in return.

Unrealistic Expectation #3: “You should be my everything.”

In my role as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I’ve noticed this narrative increasing in the couples I’ve seen: a relationship expectation that their partner needs to be their everything.

This unrealistic expectation often leads to someone feeling lonely and hurt when their partner is unable to meet their every need. This mindset also puts an intense pressure on both partners to become something that is often unattainable.

I believe that, much like the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to keep a strong partnership. Having more people in your life besides just your partner, and a shared community where both partners’ feel safe and supported by a number of people, helps to lessen the pressure that you both have to be everything.  Having a community creates an environment for your partnership to flourish as you realize that it does not have to be just the two of you against the world.

Tip: Try spending time with friends both as a couple and individually to build up your community.

Have you had some expectations in a relationship, like the ones I talk about here, that have gotten in your way of having the kind of happy relationship you want? I hope that this article helped shed some light on them, and offered you some tips for how to break free of some unrealistic relationship expectations.

If I can do anything else to support you in creating a great relationship, you know where to find me!

Warmly,

Anastacia Sams, M.A., LMFTC

The Power of Praise

The Power of Praise

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Catch People Doing Something Right.

Did you know that you have the power to perk people up, appreciate their wonderful, unique selves, and make them feel good about what they’re doing? And… that you have the power to make yourself feel that way about YOU, too?

It’s as simple as noticing what you, and others, are doing right.

Something I’ve learned from years of being a therapist, a life coach, and a couples counselor (as well as a wife, mom, colleague and friend) is this: Noticing, and commenting approvingly on positive behaviors not only makes you and others feel good, it also encourages more of the same.

Too often, people try to create change in others — and themselves — through criticism. They only speak up when something is NOT working. This leads their partners to feel that they “can never do anything right” (which I hear about all the time in marriage counseling) and it leads them to feel badly about themselves, and even doubt their competence and worth (a common topic in the therapy and life coaching room). [For more on this subject, check out “Creating Self Confidence.”]

When people feel bad about themselves, or like they’re always going to disappoint their partners, it’s nearly impossible to muster up the energy and try harder to do better. It feels like it doesn’t matter anyway, so why try?

Have you ever trained a dog? Do you scream at it whenever it does something you disapprove of, and ignore the instances when it behaves beautifully? No! Exactly the opposite is true: When your pup obediently sits / lays down / comes to you on command you lavish it with praise and reward with a treat. “Who’s a good dog? Who’s the best doggie? You are the best doggie!”

In contrast, think about your own internal dialogue when you don’t do something just right: You miss your workout, eat the donut, or make a mistake at work. If you’re like a lot of people, your inner critic berates you, calls you names, brings up all the other times you disappointed, and paints a bleak future. [For more on how to get a handle on your inner critic, check out The Happiness Class].

Now, think about your inner dialogue when you did make it to the gym, ordered the salad (dressing on the side!), and did your work just right………. Crickets. Chirping. Most people glide right by their own awesomeness, and that’s a shame.

Same goes for your partner. It’s so easy to jump all over people, or automatically radiate disapproving energy when others fail to meet our expectations. It’s also very easy to completely miss all the times — which are probably most of the times — that your partner is kind and generous.

You could certainly indulge the, “Why should I compliment them for just doing what they should be doing?” school of thought. But you’re probably reading this article because you want a next-level type of relationship. If that’s the case I invite you to imagine what kind of love-fest might ensue were you to slather on the praise and positivity when your partner is actually being great.

A simpler way to connect with the power of praise is to think about how YOU feel when your efforts are noticed, your specialness is admired by others, and your gifts are celebrated. It’s affirming. It’s validating. It makes you feel like you’re on the right track, and that you should keep doing more of what you’re doing, right?

Here’s one from me to you: I think that it’s fantastic that you’re browsing around online for articles that will help you build yourself up, feel happier, and have better relationships with others. Not everyone does that. Many just complain about their circumstances or blame other people.

But you understand that knowledge is power, and you’re open to new ideas. You are aware that you’re in control of your life, and you have the power to shape the results you get. You get that what you do, matters — and you’re committed to putting in your best effort.

That is a pretty great thing about you. I hope that you remind yourself of that fact as you go about the rest of your day — tossing around positivity and praise like you were the mayor of happy-town.

Much love,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. While you’re at it, try this one with a kid. Comment on something they did well, (like, “Good job listening!” or “I really like it when you look right into my eyes when I’m talking to you!”) and they will not just puff up with pride, but often fall all over themselves to get more of your approval. They’re hungry for it.

P.P.S. Everyone is.

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self
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