If asked, most people would consider themselves good listeners. But is that actually true? Think about the last time you had a conversation with your partner. What were you doing?
Were you watching the TV in the background? Scrolling through your social media feeds? Doing dishes? Playing a game?
The truth is, whether or not you think you are a good listener already is irrelevant — we can all always become better listeners. We can all always work harder to make our partners feel heard and understood. To focus all of our attention on them for a moment and make sure that they feel they are getting the committed engagement that they need to feel supported.
How to Become a Better Listener
Whether you’re a good listener already or you know you’ve got a good way to go on that front, we can all get better at listening to our partners. So, without further ado, here are a few extremely important tips that you can use to become a better listener in your relationship or marriage.
1. Pay Attention to Body Language
Now, this particular tip applies to not only your partner’s body language but also your own. It is important to take note of how your partner is sitting and what their body language is saying because this can help you to better understand their feelings.
As for your own body language, you want to make sure that your partner sees that you are listening to them. For example, if I’m talking to my partner about something that has been bothering me and they’re facing away from me and looking around the room at other things, I’m not going to feel listened to. What you want to do is show your partner that you care about what they are saying and you care about them and their concerns.
To do this, make sure you are looking at your partner and facing them with your body. Also, leaning forward can help show that you are actively listening to them — think about a kid listening to a story, they make themselves closer to the speaker when they are interested.
2. Listen to Learn (Not Reply)
While debate classes in school may help us have interesting conversations that explore different topics and perspectives, they can really do us a disservice if we begin to apply that debate structure to any conversation. In a debate, you aren’t really listening to your “opponent” as much as you are looking for queues and opportunities to get your side of the argument in.
This is an incredibly bad practice when you’re having a conversation with your partner. Rather than listening to build your own defense, focus on listening to your partner to learn about them. The best thing about having conversations with our partners is getting to learn more about them. So, next time you are listening to your partner, really listen and better understand their perspective without searching for ways to counter it.
3. Focus on the Speaker
Being a good listener requires you to, well, actually listen. I know, big revelation there, but it is harder to do than people think. Actually listening to someone means focusing on them and what they are saying — this means no distractions.
This can be incredibly difficult for many of us, especially because a lot of us are raised doing many things at one time. But making the effort to show your partner that you are devoting all of your attention to listening to them can instantly make you seem like the best listener ever.
So, next time you and your partner are having a discussion, make sure the TV is off and silence your phone so that you can both be present in the moment and able to fully listen to each other.
4. Paraphrase to Acknowledge Your Partner’s Feelings
Paraphrasing is an incredibly useful tool that can help reassure your partner that you are listening and actually hearing them. And not only that, paraphrasing your partner’s concerns helps them to know that you are hearing what they are intending to say and not misinterpreting or misunderstanding something — which can help avoid future conflicts.
You can also use paraphrasing to make sure that you are accurately understanding your partner’s feelings as well as their words. That being said, it is important to use paraphrasing only as a starting point. After you have paraphrased your partner‘s feelings or words make sure that you’re taking the time to add your own thoughts as well — this keeps your partner from feeling like they’re talking to a parrot!
5. Listening Does Not Mean Problem-Solving
Honestly, listening is really hard. Many of us feel that when our partners are talking to us about a concern of theirs that we immediately need to fix it. And while, a lot of the time, we should be working with our partner to address any concerns or issues that come up, being a good listener suspends the problem-solving process.
Sometimes our partners don’t need anything “fixed,” sometimes they simply want to know that they are heard and acknowledged by their partner. So, while you are listening to your partner, focus on actually listening to them — the problem solving can come later, and it can be done together.
6. Listen Without Judgment
OK, completely suspending judgment can be extremely difficult — especially if you are listening to your partner address something about you or something you did. Many of us may feel the need to defend ourselves or bring up our own concerns with our partners in order to shift the focus off of us.
This is, however, not being a good listener. Rather than jumping to your own defense or going on the offensive, try encouraging your partner to speak with “I” statements — this immediately takes away a lot of the perceived blame and lets both of you focus on your partner’s feelings.
An example of an “I” statement versus a “you” statement would be something like this:
- I feel like I am always doing the dishes and cleaning up the messes around the house.
- You never do any of the dishes or clean up any of the messes around the house.
This tiny difference can make it so much easier to address the concerns your partner has without feeling attacked.
7. Empathize with Your Partner
Alright, all of the tips above aren’t going to help if you aren’t wanting to listen to your partner. And we mean actually listen to them — without waiting for our chance to offer a counterpoint.
Being an actual good listener requires that you not only listen to the words that your partner is saying but also actively try to understand their perspective. This can be incredibly difficult, especially if you feel that you need to defend yourself. But, the truth is, to be a better listener, you need to empathize with your partner and truly understand their point of view and their feelings.
8. Talk to a Therapist
A professional therapist can be an incredible resource to not only help you work through the tips mentioned above but also provide additional and more personalized strategies that can help you be a better listener in your specific relationship. Now, it is important to note that good communication is a two-way street where both members of the relationship need to practice good listening skills — so if you are the only one working to improve, talking to a therapist can also help you to discover ways that you can talk to your partner about your concerns.
Couples therapy is also a great option for partners or spouses wanting to create better communication habits. So, whether you are looking for some additional individual assistance to improve your listening skills, you and your partner are both wanting some guidance on better communication practices, or you simply have a question or two you’d like to discuss, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow. We can all be better listeners, and sometimes the best way that we can do that is to get some external guidance.