by Deb Powers
Imagine this scenario: At dinner, Ann and Dave are exchanging stories about their respective days. Ann mentions her frustration with a coworker who leaves the work to her, but always seems to claim the credit. Dave listens for a few minutes, then offers a possible strategy for keeping Ann’s supervisor in the loop so she gets the credit she deserves. Stung, Ann accuses Dave of always pointing out the things she does wrong and telling her what she should be doing instead. Now defensive – he was only trying to be supportive, after all – Dave slaps back with, “Well, if you ever took my advice, you wouldn’t have these problems.”
The end result – both Ann and Dave feel unheard, unappreciated and angry, and spend the rest of the evening in sullen silence.
That little scene may feel all too familiar for many couples. It’s the kind of spat that happens when couples have trouble listening to hear what their partner is saying. Ann was venting. Dave heard a request for advice. Ann heard his attempt to be supportive by solving her problem as an attack on her abilities. Dave responded to her accusation by venting his own – unspoken – resentment that she rejected his attempt to help. Series of miscommunications like this are a recipe for disaster.
The good news? Many of these problems can be resolved with better listening – and there are plenty of ways to practice better listening and more effective communication. These four couples communication games offer a great starting point to better listening and communication.
1. Let's Stare!
It's a staring contest — with a difference. Sit opposite each other and get comfortable. Turn off music, TV and any other distractions. Put your phones on silent and leave them in another room – you want no distractions. Now, set a timer for five minutes and make eye contact. The objective here is the exact opposite of the typical staring contest. You're not trying to make the other look away. Instead, you're working together to maintain eye contact for the full five minutes. The only other rules are no touching and no talking. Just stare into each other's eyes for five solid minutes. Let your thoughts come, make a note of them, and let them go. Don't worry if you can't do it at first — it can be really awkward. Chances are, you'll both collapse in a fit of giggles about halfway through. It's okay.
At the end of five minutes — or three, or however long you lasted — exchange notes about the experience. Talk about what you felt, noticed and thought.
2. Massage to Connect
Offering your partner a massage may feel like only a seduction technique, but there's so much more to giving a massage than trying to turn them on. In fact, giving a massage can key into all five love languages: words of love, acts of service, giving gifts, spending time and affectionate touch. You can take the feeling to the next level by practicing active listening while you knead the knots out of those muscles. As licensed massage therapist Eric Stephenson notes, a massage is like a dance — so always stay tuned-into the signals your partner is giving you, and be aware of the signals you may be sending them. Keeping the following three tips in mind should do the trick.
Set Expectations for the Massage
There's a big difference between a relaxing foot massage and an erotic all-over body rub. One may easily evolve into the other — and it often does — but both the giver and the receiver should be clear about their expectations from the start.
Use Relaxing Massage Oil
A massage is meant to be relaxing, and the right massage oil can give you a little bump toward that goal. Reign Together CBD Massage Oil uses THC-free broad spectrum CBD to promote all-over relaxation and stress relief, benefits that are only amplified when combined with loving touch.
Pay Attention to Your Partner’s Body Language
When you're giving a massage, you're in a position of power, which puts your partner in a position of vulnerability. They may not feel comfortable asking you to lighten up or telling you that something is uncomfortable. No worries, though — their body will let you know. Watch for telltale signs — but don't just try to interpret them. A sharp breath can mean "ouch!" or "ooh!" The only way to know for sure is to ask. The questions below are a great place to start:
- "Did that hurt?"
- "Does that feel good?"
- "How’s the pressure?"
- "Do you want me to slow down?"
- "Do you want me to do that some more?"
Your questions will let them know that you're paying attention and encourage them to communicate what they like and what they want you to stop doing. You’ll also learn quickly how they like being massaged and your hands will be in high demand.
Give Feedback Generously
If you're receiving the massage, help your partner out. If they hit that sweet spot, tell them. If you need a bit more muscle behind it, ask them to dig deeper — or, if you'd really just like some gentle stroking, ask them to ease up.
3. Reflective Storytelling
Most "couple communication games" are a lot more like homework than actual games. If you Google it, you'll get lists of listening techniques to help you improve your listening skills. They're definitely important — but they're not a lot of fun. This one, though, can be a lot of fun — and it will help you understand how you listen – and don’t listen to each other, as well as building listening skills that you’ll use both in and outside the relationship.
- Decide who will be the storyteller and who will be the listener – rock, paper, scissors is a simple way to choose.
- Set a timer for five minutes.
- The storyteller gets to tell a story until the timer goes off. It can be any story of their choosing – a favorite fairy tale, a childhood memory, or, perhaps, their frustrating day at work.
- The listener listens as closely as possible.
- When the timer goes off, the listener tells the story back, exactly as they heard it.
After the listener retells the story, talk about how the retelling differed from the original, and reflect on why that may be. This exercise will help you each see where and why your mind wanders away from active listening, and help you be a more attentive and effective listener in the future.
4. Hold Hands When You Talk
Physical contact actually helps you sync physically with your significant other. HeartMath Institute, which studies the interconnectedness of all living things, found that when two people hold hands, their heartbeat and brain waves become synchronized, literally putting them on the same wavelength. This type of energetic communication — as in the communication between their electromagnetic energies — can lead to a deeper understanding and connection between lovers.
Better communication is the key to a stronger, more loving and more passionate relationship. The more you listen, touch each other, and play together, the easier it will be to understand your lover's love language. Learning to communicate with each other will help you build a strong, loving foundation for your lives together, but the benefits of being a better listener extend far beyond your romantic relationships. As you practice your improved listening skills in the wider world, you’ll find yourself listening and responding better in all spheres of your life. You’ll reap the benefits in a more successful—and comfortable – work life, deeper friendships, and a more loving family life.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer who specializes in home, education, and lifestyle topics. She draws on her experiences as a teacher, mother, grandmother and all-around creative spirit to help others achieve their own goals.