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Every career comes with its own challenges. Some professionals however can present higher levels of stress due to the nature of the job. Being a soldier is one of such professions, and as a result, soldiers can be more likely to suffer from mental health difficulties such as burn out, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and substance use.

As the partner, you may feel the need to offer support and help when they are experiencing moments of high stress. The first basic level of support you can offer is empathic listening, also known as active listening. Empathic listening is when you allow a person to speak and share their emotions, without feeling judged or criticised for what they are saying. It is different from listening in the traditional sense because in empathic listening, you are not listening to be able to answer back. Instead, it is simply about being present in the moment with your partner and trying to understand what they are trying to express, both through their words and through their emotions.

Empathic listening is an effective tool to use when presented with an emotional situation, or when there is a problem or conflict that needs to be resolved. By feeling listened to, it allows for an opportunity to feel understood, supported and valued. By practising empathic listening, you help your partner feel more empowered, while also boosting your relationship as it results in better communication and sharing of feelings.

To practice empathic listening, you may want to adopt the following tips:

  • Allow your partner to take the lead of the conversation and be in control of the topic you discuss
  • Give the conversation the importance it requires by dropping what you are doing and giving your partner your full attention
  • Take the time to listen attentively to what they are saying and pay attention to their non-verbal cues, what their bodies and emotions are telling you
  • Ask questions to clarify if you do not understand, allow them the opportunity to clarify
  • Repeat back to your partner what you heard, see if you understood correctly and to make your partner feel you are following what they are telling you
  • Avoid interrupting as much as possible, even if you feel you have something to add or feel defensive
  • Avoid reaching conclusions before your partner is done speaking

You may find yourself feeling the need to give advice or offer solutions. This comes from a genuine want to help your partner and a need for them to be happier. Try and avoid this in the middle of the conversation because although sincere, it can come across as a way of stopping the conversation short, resulting in your partner feeling misunderstood or not heard. You may wish to offer advice when your partner has shared what they had to say and the emotions have been expressed. At this point, it will be easier for them to feel like your advice is coming from a place of being understood and without judgement.

Finally, don’t forget to also find support for yourself. Have friends and family or people you trust to support you when you are struggling yourself. By strengthening your own support systems, you will be able to support your partner through those difficult moments better.

References:

Davenport, B. (2015, June 22). Empathic listening: 9 strategies for compassionate communication. Live bold and bloom. https://liveboldandbloom.com/06/self-improvement/empathic-listening

Petra Borgis a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy from the Gestalt Therapy Institute Malta (GPTIM) and working at Willingness as a Trainee Psychotherapist. She has experience as a Triage Officer and has also worked closely with Willingness over several years, coordinating the international internship programme and providing support over diverse events and initiatives.