The simplest answer: he listens.
But listening — really listening — involves thinking less, being attentive to the present and carefully considering what your partner is saying.
And that kind of listening is surprisingly difficult. It takes practice.
So we asked Benjamin Mathes, founder of Urban Confessional, a nonprofit that specializes in listening, for a few tips. UC takes to the streets with signs that say Free Listening and listens to anyone who needs to vent or share a story.
“It’s not about thinking less of yourself. It’s about thinking of yourself less,” says Mathes. Make the other person more important in the moment. “I’m releasing my intentions and just paying attention.”
The Three Rules of Being a Better Listener
1. Ask questions. “Curiosity is what drives our ability to be present for other people.” As you learn about someone, you develop empathy. As Mathes puts it, “Curiosity is the key that opens the door to understanding.”
2. Be hospitable. Mathes suggests considering the word hospitality to mean, you are welcome to be who you are in my space. “Often when someone comes into our space, we immediately try to influence them, interrupt them or try to change them.”
3. Be patient. “Patience,” notes Mathes, “is the seed to presence.” Don’t hurry to fix, solve and move on to the next thing. Just listen. Patience allows us to be in the moment and lets the person reveal themselves if they are ready to do it. “When we listen to somebody we are actually readjusting our relationship to time.”
If you’re on a first date …
Be interested, not interesting. “Don’t look for someone who can meet your needs,” suggests Mathes. Instead, focus on theirs. “If I’m on a first date and I’m just looking for someone to meet my needs, I don’t need to listen. I can just be interesting and she’ll be attracted to me. But if I’m on a path to find someone whose needs I want to meet for the rest of my life, even if it’s on a first date, then I have to switch the paradigm and put the other person first, seek her happiness over mine, listen to her needs and see if I want to meet them.”
If you’re in a fight or disagreement…
Show up and shut up. “Let her talk, and when it seems she’s finished, ask her, ‘Is there anything else you’d like to say?’” says Mathes. “Don’t be a Donald Trump about it. It’s gotta come from the heart.” Saying this allows the other person time to think and communicates that you’ve given them a chance and that you’ve heard them. “It totally shifts the tone of conflict in a relationship. Easier said than done, but very powerful.”
If she’s says something but means something else ...
When you’re listening, you’re acting with intimacy, and that peels back layers to the true self. “Even if a woman is being veiled, find a way to be intimate with her, such that you’re picking up everything,” says Mathes.
Be attentive to body language. “She’s holding her jaw tightly. How she’s holding her body. She’s saying something but her voice is cracking — there must be something underneath all of this and I need to be curious about the cause, and not the effect.” Work to understand the source of your partner’s displeasure and the role you played in it. “Focus on accountability. That’s the difference between a boy and a man. A man is accountable and a boy shifts the blame.”
And if you want to have better sex...
Sex is often mistaken for intimacy. “Good sex at its highest is about a mutual meeting of needs expressed physically,” notes Mathes. And don’t confuse listening in the bedroom with what position she likes — it’s about conditions: service, humility, intimacy, openness and vulnerability. “Intimate listeners have an understanding of our partners and their needs and desires, and we just approach sex differently. That’s when sex gets better, and better can be however you want to define it: dirty, kinky, crazy or intimate and religious.”
Nota Bene: Urban Confessional is hosting a Free Listening Day on Monday, April 11th to promote the art of listening. They’re in 13 countries and 20 states; check the schedule to see if they’re in your area.
Image via Fox Searchlight