Listen to understand

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.

When you take the time and effort to  ask questions and sincerely listen to their response, you build respect and connection.  And your spouse is more likely to hear your perspective.

Some sentence starters to ask for more exploration of their perspective:

  • “Can you help me understand . . .?” 
  • “It would help me understand if you could share an example of… “
  • “Help me to better understand why you feel that way. Can you be specific about how you came to believe…?”
  • “I want to better understand your perspective. Would you give me an example of …”
  • “I need you to help me understand where you are coming from on this.”
  • “I’m trying to understand these issues better, can you say more about…”
  • “Please help me understand what that’s like for you?”
  • “Help me understand your connection to this matter? What makes this so interesting/ important to you?”
  • “Bring me along on your thought process on this issue.”
  • “Tell me how your thoughts developed on this.”

  • “There’s no right or wrong…it’s just different perspectives. I want to know more about your perspective.”
  • “What information/ background on this issue might you have that I don’t?”
  • “Can you say a little more about how you see things?”
  • “Say more about why this is important to you.” 
  • “What do you mean when you say…?”
  • “How do you see it differently?”
  • “I want to know what you are really hoping for.”
  •  “Tell me more.”

  • “What’s going on for you right now?”
  • “How are you feeling about all of this?”
  • “I noticed (name non verbal communication that occurred*) when… I said/asked…. Can we talk about what was going on for you in that moment?”   – *smirk, rolling eyes, brows furrowing

Listening to understand will generally be more effective  than defensive responses.

  • Most people don’t like to be maligned and so they respond with defensiveness – “I did not”, “I was just …” (that’s understandable, but not best for your relationship)
  • While defensiveness may block hurtful comments from entering, they also block potentially useful information.
Listen with empathy. Empathy depends upon responding to feelings by hearing them –  just as they are. Beware of minimizing

Minimizing or denying that there has been a difficult feeling is unhelpful.

 Why might someone minimize another’s feelings?  If their own parents minimized or became too critical when they showed feelings, they may have learned to hold in feelings rather than show it. Then they are likely to minimize or criticize when their spouse shows feelings.

Beware of overreacting

Overreacting, as if a small problem is a disaster, is also unhelpful.

Why might someone overreact?  If their own parents overreacted, then they may have learned to treat everything with alarm.

There may be times that the speaker is saying something that you do not agree with, and you may feel compelled to show your disapproval. Beware of using the word BUT.

the word BUT

  • It discounts what the original speaker said, and brings in a new topic.

INSTEAD of the word BUT, use words that show that you believe that what the other says has value:

  • “I understand …”
  • “AND…”
  • “AND at the same time …”
  • I agree with … AND yet …”
  • “Also …”

Change BUT to YES … AND ….

You don’t have to agree with it all;  find what makes some sense to you.

It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything your spouse just said, you can validate their words and add your own perspective.

YES, [what you agree with] AND [your views]


“Yes, the long lines at the airports are so annoying. And, at the same time, if we don’t fly we’ll miss my sister’s wedding.”

Don’t just say these words, train yourself to think in this way.

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