Why listening is important for communication and relationships
Listening can lead to a better understanding between you and your partner and can strengthen your long-term relationship.
Listening also makes it easier for you to solve problems together and to be consistent in how you behave towards your children. This makes raising children easier and benefits your whole family.
Listening and communication: basic steps
Good listening starts with these simple steps:
- Really pay attention when your partner speaks.
- Encourage your partner to talk.
- Check that you understand your partner’s perspective.
- Wait until your partner finishes before you speak.
Step 1: pay attention when your partner speaks
If your partner needs to talk, stop what you’re doing so you can look at your partner and give full attention to your partner’s words and body language.
You can show your partner that you’re giving your full attention by:
- facing your partner
- nodding to show that you’re listening
- making sure your arms are uncrossed.
If you’re too distracted to listen, say so, and set another time to talk.
Step 2: encourage your partner to talk
One of the best ways to encourage your partner to talk is by asking open-ended questions like ‘How did you feel when that happened?’ or ‘What do you think about that?’ These sorts of questions can get a conversation started and help your partner to share feelings and thoughts. It’s best to avoid asking too many questions, though – this can sound like an interrogation.
Your body language can also encourage your partner to talk openly. Showing your partner that you're giving your full attention can help.
Step 3: check that you understand your partner’s perspective
You can check that you understand the issue and your partner’s feelings by repeating your partner’s comments in your own words. If you’ve noticed an emotion in your partner’s body language or tone of voice – like stress, sadness or worry – you can try putting this into words too. For example, ‘It sounds like you’re feeling stressed about being responsible for school pick-ups every day’.
You can also ask for clarification. This shows that you’re interested in finding out more about your partner’s views and feelings. For example, ‘I get the feeling that you’re frustrated with the way this has been going, is that right?’ Be genuine – your partner will know whether you’re really interested.
Checking and clarifying can help you avoid assumptions – for example, the assumption that your partner is being hurtful or is the one with the problem. This approach can also help you understand what’s going on if your partner says or does something that you feel is hurtful.
Step 4: wait until your partner finishes before speaking
It’s best to wait until your partner pauses before you speak, even if there’s something you don’t understand. If you avoid jumping in with ‘Yes, but’, you’re less likely to distract your partner.
When you think your partner has finished talking, ask if now is a good time to share your thoughts and feelings. If it isn’t a good time, you can set aside some time later.
When you’re listening to your partner, try to think about your partner positively. For example, assume that your partner is doing her or his best and look out for your partner’s efforts to say things in a helpful and caring way.
Getting help with listening and communication
All relationships have their ups and downs. But if you’re really upset at the end of most conversations with your partner or you feel that you only ever get to listen and don’t get to share your feelings, it might help to speak to someone. You can talk to a trusted friend or family member, GP or counsellor.
Couple counselling can help. If your partner doesn’t want to go it’s still worth seeking help, even by yourself.