Lust and sexual attraction are exciting early on in a relationship, but as you can probably imagine, those traits alone don't exactly make for a healthy, lifelong partnership. Communication is key in maintaining a strong and thriving relationship, and while you might think you're a good listener, it's actually something that takes some work and effort. Poor listening skills can lead to a breakdown in communication in a relationship, so it's important to learn how to be a good one ASAP. "Active listening is, if practiced and mastered, the best gift you can give your partner," notes Irene Hansen Savarese, marriage and family therapist. We gathered some tips on listening in relationships to help you out.
Read on for nine tips on how to be a more effective and giving listener.
Make Listening a Priority
Listen without planning what you are going to say in response. Let go of your own agenda, and be aware that you need to listen. Always make eye contact to show your partner that you're engaged in what they're saying.
Pay attention when your partner is speaking by not becoming easily distracted. Don't look at the TV, glance at your phone, or finish up a chore.
Use the Feedback Technique
"Giving a summary or recap of what your partner just said is an excellent way to show your genuine willingness to understand your partner," says Savarese. Let your partner know that you heard what they said by using a feedback technique and restating what was said. Say something like "I hear you when you say that..." and follow up by rephrasing what they said. Also be open to the possibility that you didn't hear clearly what your spouse was saying, and give them space to say so if that is the case.
Pay Attention To Their Non-Verbal Signs
Be aware of non-verbal signs and clues—both yours and your partners. These include shrugging your shoulders, tone of voice, crossing arms or legs, nodding, eye contact or looking away, facial expressions (smile, frown, shock, disgust, tears, surprise, rolling eyes, etc.), and mannerisms (fiddling with papers, tapping your fingers). Over half of your message is delivered through non-verbal signs.
Understand What Blocks You From Listening
Try not to fall into these patterns of listening: mind-reading, rehearsing, filtering, judging, daydreaming, advising, sparring, being right, changing the subject, stonewalling, and placating.
Focus on the main points that your spouse is talking about, and know it's okay to ask questions to clarify what you thought you heard. Make sure "your partner feels that you not only get what they are saying but why they are saying it. You need to make sure your partner knows that you really get who they are and why they think the way they do and that you respect and value them," says Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D. You can do so with feedback like "I understand why this is so meaningful to you" or "I see why that made you so angry." You can also voice agreement by saying something like "that would have really hurt me, too."
Understand the Differences in Your Communication Styles
You may just communicate differently, and being aware of that can enhance your listening skills. One of you may often share because you want to give information or solve a problem. The other may tend to talk to connect with someone or to get information. Some people talk more about relationships than others—you may be more concerned about details than your spouse.
Respect your partner's point of view, even if you disagree with what is being said. "The best listeners recognize that they cannot succeed without seeking out information from those around them and they let those people know that they have unique input that is valuable," says psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter. "When you show respect for other people's ideas, they're more likely to reciprocate."