It's a widespread complaint of women: men don't know how to listen without rushing in to give advice and offer a solution. "I'm not looking for advice," many women say, "I just want to be heard, to get something off my chest." Through some mysterious blend of nature and nurture, guys just want to find a fix.
Women: try a prompt.
"Sweetheart, there's something I want to talk to you about and what I'd like from you is to just listen, with empathy. Don't offer advice, don't become Mr. Fix-it, just listen. Will you do that?"
A prompt reminds your spouse of what you're seeking. Lifelong habits are hard to change, for all of us, and that's why a prompt can make all the difference, putting something on a partner's radar in advance so that you're less likely to feel disappointed afterwards.
"Sweetheart, I'm feeling nervous walking into your company party right now and knowing so few people in the room. Would you be willing to stay with me for at least a half hour and introduce me around before going off to chat with your co-workers?"
A form of assertiveness, prompting is how we're good to ourselves, not leaving something to chance when we can increase the odds. Better to offer a prompt rather than simply hope that the memory of our last relevant conversation — even the last five conversations — will be at the forefront of our partner's mind.
"Sweetheart, there's something troubling me that I want to talk about. Would you be willing to listen for a while before saying anything, even for five minutes, even if you don't like what you're hearing? Would you be willing to let me complete all that I want to say before you give me your response?"
Asking for what we need and want — the essence of assertiveness — has in many studies been found to enhance the quality of marital relationships: assertive partners tend to be happier partners.1 But so much depends on how we assert ourselves, our tone of voice and the words we use — whether we come across as bossy and demanding or gentle and patient. If you've made your particular request known in prior conversations, a simple prompt will remind your partner of that request and increase likelihood that you'll get what you’re hoping for.
1 Russell, Roger A. "Assertiveness training and its effects upon the marital relationship." Family Therapy, Volume 8 Issue 1. January 1981.