The One Marriage Skill Your Family Pet Can Teach You

Does your dog listen better than your spouse?

According to an Associated Press poll, a third of married women, and 18 percent of married men, find their pets to be better listeners than their spouse. If you feel disconnected from your spouse or are struggling in your marriage, it’s pretty likely the underlying culprit is a failure to communicate.

During this article we’re going to discuss 3 communication principles you can use right now to improve how you and your spouse talk.

When the communication in your marriage has been reduced to “yes,” “no,” and grunted-out lists of items you need from the grocery store, your marriage is in danger of hitting the proverbial wall—and worse. In this blog, I’ll give you a few tips that Dr. Gunzburg gave in a recent interview on the topic of how to enhance communication and reconnect with your partner.

What Does Your Family Pet Have That You Don’t?

It’s small wonder so many marriages are in jeopardy, when the goldfish or poodle is considered to be a more devoted listener than the person to whom you pledged eternal devotion. While communication is the bedrock of any relationship, it’s easy to let your manners slide a bit once you’re married. After all, your home is your comfort zone where you can relax.

When you enter the front door of your house, you may feel you’re “off duty,” but when you’re with your friends and acquaintances, you’re on your best behavior. By going “off duty” when you get home, you rob your spouse of the attention he or she truly deserves and you may expose them to hurtful words and behaviors that can drive you apart.

Your spouse, more than anyone else, deserves your optimum level of true, heartfelt attention. Treat your spouse the way your golden retriever might: gorgeous eyes intent and compassionate, and physical gestures of reassurance that you are in tune with what he or she is saying. (Think twice before licking her hand, though—some things only a pet can get away with.)

Here’s how you can regain your place in the communication hierarchy—above your pets.

Roll Over and Listen

Communication skills—especially listening skills—can become rusty with age. Only you and your spouse truly know whether or not your listening skills have slipped. Your ability to hear and really understand what your spouse is saying needs to be practiced, and there’s always room for improvement.

First, take an honest assessment of how attentively you listen to your spouse. If you haven’t been listening very well, the tips you are about to learn will help you get back on track.

But even if you think your listening skills are flawless, try the following tips for active listening. They will help break down the communication barriers in your marriage.

Active Listening Tip #1: Offer Your Spouse Laser Focus

It may be tempting to sift through the mail or continue to read news online while your spouse is talking, but this is far from active listening. The next time your husband or wife is talking, challenge yourself to really listen to the words being said. Maintain eye contact, nod or respond in some other meaningful, physical way that shows you are listening. Really tune in and listen to your spouse’s words and the thoughts and feelings behind those words.

Active Listening Tip #2: Use Your Words Wisely

Maybe you’ve said to someone before, “You’re not listening to me!” And the response you received was them parroting back your words. No doubt, this person heard what you said, but you still may not have felt convinced that what you were communicating to them was really understood.

The next time your spouse is speaking, explain back to him or her—in your own words—what you’ve heard her say. It’s an easy way to show your thoughtfulness, because you are taking the time to translate what has been said in terms you understand, and are now confirming you have interpreted correctly.

Active Listening Tip #3: Say No-no to “Yes/No”

Nothing will shut down communication quicker than asking a question that drives the listener to answer with a “yes” or “no.” When asking your spouse about what he or she is saying, try an open-ended question that isn’t meant to guide the answer you want to hear, but allows your spouse to answer openly and honestly in words beyond yes and no.

If you have been through an affair, learning to improve your communication with your partner is one of the most critical steps to healing. Establishing new listening patterns is just one of part of the communication process.

Effective communication is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice. Sure, your dog has nothing to do all day but practice his listening skills. But to strengthen your marriage, you need to take the time—and add a few tricks to your repertoire.

What methods have you tried to improve the communication in your marriage? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? If you’ve been through an affair, have you been able to re-establish communication with your spouse, or are you still struggling to talk with him? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,

Stephanie Anderson

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