Healthy Communication 101: Active Listening

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Tips For Being An Effective Listener In Your Relationship & Why It Matters


“The first duty of LOVE is to LISTEN.” – Paul Tillich

One of the biggest barriers to a healthy relationship is ineffective communication. However, when it comes to communication, we don’t always know where to start or what “healthy” even means.

That’s because healthy communication is more than just speaking clearly, kindly, and thoughtfully to our partners. It also involves LISTENING to our partner’s wants, needs, dreams, and feedback… with the intent to understand and provide support.

Here’s an example: Maggie had a really tough day. She was late getting the kids to school, so she felt completely frazzled. On her way into work, she spilled coffee all over her blouse. Then, when she got into the office, Maggie’s boss told her that the report she had been working on for two months needed to be completely redone. She worked late on the report. Once she finally started her commute home, there was an accident on the freeway.

When Maggie FINALLY got home, she just needed to vent. Her husband, Tim, was washing the dishes after dinner. He could tell Maggie really needed some support. He had several options:

  1. Keep washing dishes while listening to Maggie. That way, they could both still get ready for bed on time.

  2. Tell Maggie he understood. He had a busy, tough day, too.

  3. Completely stop what he was doing to actively engage with Maggie.

Let’s say Tim chose Option 1. Maggie starts talking about her tough day, but between the faucet running, the clanking of the dishes, and the garbage disposal, Tim is only getting fragments of what Maggie is saying. She leaves the conversation feeling defeated that her husband isn’t listening to her or loving her at a vulnerable time.

How about Option 2? Well, in this scenario, Tim doesn’t even let Maggie talk. He just says some days are tough and continues with his chores. Even though he says he “understands,” his actions show Maggie that he doesn’t value her feelings or what she has to say. This starts chipping away at their relationship and, over time, the communication breaks down even more.

Option 3 is the right choice. By actively stopping what he is doing to engage with Maggie, he is showing her, in a time of stress and vulnerability, that she is a priority to him. Through listening, he can provide the support that she needs during this difficult time. And, within a few minutes of venting, Maggie feels better because she sees her husband loving her unconditionally. They end the engagement with a long, warm hug, Tim gets back to the dishes, and Maggie has a better mindset going into the rest of the evening.

THAT is why listening is such an important part of loving someone. If you’re ready to try active listening with your partner, here are a few quick tips to help you get started:

Ditch Distractions

We are a society of multitaskers. Our world is fast-paced, and we don’t always make the time to be fully present. One of the best ways to show love and priority to a partner is to give them our complete and undivided attention. That means no technology (TV, phones, etc.), no chores, and no other distractions.

We know this isn’t always possible right in the moment. BUT, if it’s important, we can always schedule time to actively listen to whatever our partner has to say. Make time to actively talk and engage with each other – relationship expert John Gottman recommends 20 minutes per day.

Don’t Interrupt & Ask Questions

Listen fully to what your partner is saying. Even if you’ve heard it before. Even if it’s the same complaint about work they always make. Even if you’re tired. Completely listen and let you partner get it out – this shows your partner respect and allows them to complete their thoughts.

When your partner is done speaking, ask thoughtful follow-up questions that show you were actively listening. This shows your partner that you care to know more about what they’re saying – because it’s valuable and meaningful.

Use Body Language

Make eye contact. Hold your partner’s hand. Turn your body to face your partner so they know they have your full, undivided attention. Your body language can work wonders in showing you are actively listening to whatever is being said.

Remember, listening IS love. In today’s world, our time and attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give – so give it freely to your partner and watch your relationship grow.