Soft skills that can help your marriage
Coaching skills emphasize things like seeing various sides of a situation, listening until you understand well enough to summarize accurately from the other person’s point of view, searching for multiple possible solutions, and expressing genuine empathy and interest in the other person. Although you never want to fall into the trap of trying to serve strictly as a coach or counselor in your own marriage, the soft skills involved in these roles can be incredibly helpful in any close human relationship.
What is your spouse looking for?
You know that most of the time when you’re talking with your spouse, you’re not looking for a solution; you’re looking to be understood. And you know that when you’re looking to be understood, having someone provide a solution and tell you what to do doesn’t go over so well. It’s safe to assume that—unless the other person has explicitly asked for help problem-solving—they aren’t looking for suggestions and solutions either.
The best route is to move toward empathetic listening. Ask to hear more, unpack what you’re hearing them say, ask follow up questions. After fully unpacking all the other person has to say, you may want to ask, “So how can I be helpful to you?” This question is a good test of whether a person is looking for a solution or for empathetic listening. In marriage, as in all other areas of life, strive to live with patience and with humility, assuming you do not know all the answers and do not have all the solutions.
Consider some of the directives from Proverbs:
- Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— (1:5)
- A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. (19:11)
- To answer before listening—that is folly and shame. (18:13)
- Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (13:10)
Living with patience and humility, and being willing to listen and receive advice and feedback yields great dividends, especially in marriage. Even after many years, never give up trying to learn more about your spouse and see how the world looks through their eyes.
Discovery Listening for Marriage
Both of us have many years’ experience of trying and learning how to be better listeners and question-askers in our marriages. Here’s a story from Gary’s experience about how he and his wife Gina have applied coaching in their marriage:
A few years into our marriage Gina and I participated in a married couples communication workshop led by Dr. Dallas Demmitt. He introduced us to Discovery Listening. Foundational to Discovery Listening is to help the “speaker” process their thoughts out loud. There are two important skills at play. First is to ask, “Is there more?” Second, the ability to summarize what you hear your partner sharing. The purpose of summary is for the speaker to hear their thoughts as the “listener” summarizes. Through this exercise, the “speaker” oftentimes will discover new insights simply through reflecting on the summary offered by the “listener.” However, the take-away for me was the importance of summarizing without inserting or contaminating the summary with your interpretation. This is much easier to say than do! Let me explain.
During the workshop we were asked to sit back-to-back with our spouse. One spouse was identified as the “speaker” and the other, the “listener.” As Dallas observed the couple, he would click a clicker every time the spouse who was the “listener” contaminated the summary. Sounded easy enough. My wife had stated on numerous occasions my superior listening skills. It was our turn. We sat back-to-back. Gina did an excellent job working hard to summarize and ask me if there was more, I wanted, or needed to share. After 5 minutes we switched roles.
This time I was the “listener” and Gina, the “speaker.” After Gina stated a concern, she had I remembering “anchoring” myself to the best of my ability before summarizing what I heard her say. Before I finished my first attempt – I heard the “click” of Dallas’ clicker. I guess I had done something wrong. Regrouped, I attempted to summarize a bit more. “Click!” Frustrated again! “Click!” “Click!” “Click!” You get the picture. By the end of the exercise, I was in double-digits.
Gina and I survived the workshop. The learning for us was that we needed to be aware when the other required the undivided attention of the other. Since then, we have on many occasions engaged in intentional conversations, requiring focus, and Discovery Listening.
We use a simple cue like – “When can we have a focused conversation about this issue?” Come up with your own que and give it a shot.
Guidelines for a focused conversation with your spouse:
- Agree when to meet
- Set a time limit
- Do everything necessary to remove distractions
- Restated the ground rules
- ask, “Is there more?”
- no advice-giving
- If you are the listener commit to be curious and non-judgmental