I’ve been thinking about what he may have meant. In our house, we have a joke, “I hear your words.” It means I heard the words you said, but I do not agree. We say this when chocolate is dissed, for example.
What I am hoping to have couples learn is not just to hear the words and be able to repeat them back, but to understand the meaning and importance of those words to his/her partner.
The courageous woman in the couple that volunteered in the workshop said she and her husband speak back and forth, but they don’t have a conversation. I asked her what that means. She explained that one of them speaks, and when s/he is done the other says what s/he wanted to say. It’s not actually a conversation, she said. They are not responding to each other.
So while it is true that the first part is active listening, it has to go beyond that. For example, if you say you don’t like it when s/he is looking somewhere else when you are talking, and s/he says back, “You don’t like it when I am looking somewhere else when you are talking,” the words have been received, as in, “I hear your words.”
The next part has to go beyond knowing the words your partner said into understanding, caring, empathy and meaning. You might ask things such as: “What does it mean to you that I am looking elsewhere?” or “How does that feel in your body?” or “What is most important in what you’re telling me?”
To move beyond active listening to connection (which is what you are biologically wired to long for), you must listen not just with your ears, but your whole body, your eyes, and your intention so s/he is sure to be heard — deeply heard and understood.