19 Communication Tips: How To Really Listen in a Relationship
TV, radio, cars passing, people, background noise, etc; to an extent listening is something we do both actively and passively all day every day. However we generally aren't as good as we think at it, particularly when it comes to with our partner.
If you ask most people, they'd say they're a good listener. However not being heard / a partner not properly listening is near the top of most common relationship complaints people have about their partner.
That's because what people really mean by their partner not listening, is actually that they're not truly hearing their intent. This may sound the same, but are actually very different things in communication. With regards to relationships, listening is the process of physically taking in your partner's words and information. Truly hearing them however entails a deeper understanding of the emotions and intentions that exist beyond just the words said.
Improving your listening skills so that you're able to properly understand your partner, can have huge benefits on any relationship. This can be with your husband/wife/partner, but also beyond with colleagues, family, friends or even someone you're meeting for the first time!! So we've provided xxxx tips on how to be a better listener, that with practice and patients, can help you and your partner become more effective and empathetic communicators, and strengthen your relationship together.
How to Be a Better Listener
Hold Your Tongue
This is a HUGE one. Most of the time, most people aren't truly listening. After a few words or a sentence of listening, we've already decided what they want to say next, and are then just waiting for a pause to get their words out. We've stopped properly listening.
Sit with a partner and each pick a topic; something you're passionate about - say holidays, food, favourite TV series. Then take in turns where one talks for 2 minutes, without the other interrupting. You have to say 100% silent and just listen. At the end of this, relay the key things you heard back to them. You'll likely find:
You're amazed how much you remembered. More than usual.
You probably found it very strange listening silently. You'll usually give sounds of encouragement when you listen actively, but this exercise just helps you see how much you usually try and talk
You probably find talking strange too! It's odd when you don't get interrupted all the time isn't it?
It's not only polite to let people talk, but the longer people talk for, the more information they usually reveal. When something is important to us, we will often express it in multiple ways, revealing more of our feelings on the subject after our third to fifth sentence on the subject. So if we stop people talking after a sentence or two, whilst they'll feel they've expressed themselves, we're not getting all the information. This creates an immediate disconnect in what they thing you've taken in versus what you have actually heard and understood.
To help, if you want to say something, using a mindfulness technique, just acknowledge it, park it, and you can come back to it when they've finished saying what they want to say. You can even lightly bite your tongue to physically help stop you talking!!
You'll likely find that listening properly is harder than you think. YOu'll also realise you've not been listening as much to people previously as you thought!! Try to keep present and your mind from wandering so you can take in all the info to respond to. If your mind drifts to that work meeting, dinner, or picking kids up in 30 minutes, just acknowledge the thought, put it to one side, and bring yourself back to the conversation.
Listen for Intent. Clarify and Feed Back
Because we're not all great at expressing ourselves, what we say and what we mean are sometimes different things. Trying to get to that point of understanding intent is at the heart of being a good listener. But it also takes work to do.
With your partner, you may over time understand their intentions a little better than with others due to your natural bond. However it can be really useful to clarify points, to get on the same page and your partner, and helping your partner feel understood in a relationship. After someone's finished talking about a point or issue, feed back the key takeout you've understood . They will then either confirm or further clarify, either way you'll both be at the same point, and they'll feel like you've listened to them.
e.g. "What I'm taking from that is you sometimes feel abandoned / When you say you're bored at home, it feels like you're frustrated with the same routine? / What I'm sensing/hearing is that..... / When you say you're struggling with the kids, are you meaning that you'd like more support in the evenings?"
This is also a really hand tool in the workplace for understanding what clients and bosses actually want, and not what they simply say they want. It can feel a little strange to do the first few times, but this is an absolute killer tip.
Put Down the Phone (and other distractions)
We're all pretty glued to our mobiles these days. However whilst we may say 'I'm listening' when absently scrolling or texting; we're not really. The message can usually wait a few minutes. Put the phone down and give your partner the attention they deserve. It's respectful and they'll feel more valued and heard because of it.
If your message really can't wait, instead of trying to do two things at once, just say "it is ok if you hold on one moment, I just need to [task] because [reason]." As they may also have a reason for urgency. Either way you've then collaboratively, respectfully and calmly framed when the needed conversation will happen.
Have good eye contact
This doesn't mean staring unblinkingly at someone, but does mean giving each other the appropriate attention to know you're focused and engaged with them and what they're saying. As a guide, when speaking, hold eye contact for 50% of the time, and for 70% of the time when listening.
Sit a few feet from each other, facing one another. Net, time 1 minute just looking at each other directly in the eye. You can blink, but try not to laugh.
You'll likely feel awkward to begin with, but over time gradually become more comfortable. This is just a good way to get used to looking at each other in the eye.
Next take it in turn to talk for a minute, whilst keeping a higher level of eye contact. See if you feel more connected to each other and whether you take in more information. You likely will.
Use Positive Receptive Body Language
As you've probably read, the majority of our communication is actually through our body language, then tone of voice, and then finally the words we actually say. So what you do with your body is important.
Face them with good eye contact, and avoid putting up barriers of crossed legs and arms if you don't usually sit like that. Lightly nodding your head occasionally as they talk will help you
As an exercise, take it in turns to talk, first facing away from each other, then facing towards but looking away with crossed arms and legs, then facing and looking at each other in a relaxed, natural position. You'll find the speaker feel much more heard the more positive your body language is.
Acknowledge Their Feelings - They're Valid!!
People's feelings are valid. We may disagree with them, we may feel they're misplaced, but they're real for that person. Don't ever dismiss someons' feelings as 'stupid' or 'unimportant', as this quickly belittles that person, not only making them feeling bad but likely making them less likely to want to share in the future. We all have reasons for feeling how we do, so understanding that can help us empathise a little more. Use open questions and statements, and explore. You may have conversations where their opinion changes, maybe your opinion shifts, but at least you'll understand them more and not have made them feel bad
Can you go into / expand on that a little more?
What is it you mean when you say...?
How was that for you?
That must have been difficult
Talking Tip: Use 'I' Statements
To help listeners, you can also learn to express yourself more effectively. I statements are a great way of doing this - and they're also useful for responding as a listener.
Framing our opinions in terms of our personal experiences of feelings and how that impacts us helps others understand the situation for us.
As a base formula, you have "I" + [Feeling] + [Situation]. For example:
I feel sad when I don't hear you're going to be home late.
I become angry when you go out and see our friends without inviting me.
Try to frame these around 'I' not 'you' as it can feel like directing blame and people can get defensive when they feel attacked.
Not: You spend too much money and it upsets me.
Instead: I get anxious when you spend extra money on things we haven't agreed on, as it could go towards the holiday we're saving for.
Let Pauses Hang a Little
Often used as a negotiation technique, let pauses become pregnant pauses - i.e. let them hang for a while. Humans have a natural urge to try and fill pauses as we generally don't like silence. You will often find that this can be when people reveal that little bit more information than the first time round. This is often the gold that helps you really understand what they mean, not just what they're saying. This is used all the time in sales to get customers to reveal what's truly important to them about the item they're looking to purchase. The salesperson can then use this information to better respond to their needs.
Remember it's OK to Speak to a Counsellor
We all need help from time to time. There really is no shame in it. Some feel it's embarrassing or like they're failing if they seek help as a couple, so become resistant to it. However just like a car that runs for a long time, sometimes you can fix little dents and dings yourself, but sometimes it might need a professional to help service it. It doesn't mean you're about to split up, but might just mean you need some help navigating some issues.
Try to Keep Calm
Whilst some cultures are more prone to resolution through arguments, generally speaking both keeping calm and talking about things rationally is the most productive way of understanding one another and resolving conflicts.
When to Have Relationship Conversations
Have Serious Chats at the Right Time
Wanting to talk about something important whilst someone's cooking, or out with friends, is likely a bad move. Neither will fully be able to concentrate, and you may make the other socially anxious. Instead agree when will be a good time to talk about an issue. If you need some time to think about a topic it's fine to say you need that time. Some people are better at leaving things longer to talk about, but some need to talk about sooner. Learn when works well for you
Try to be Proactive not Reactive
Having frustrations in relationships are perfectly natural. We also have a habit of sweeping things under the rug until they become too much, and cause an argument. The issue with this is when we get into an angry state, we're venting at one another and rarely listen properly. So try and talk about issues rationally and calmly before they become a major problem. This can feel strange and slightly awkward to do, but if you both go into it with the same positive attitude, it'll hugely help in creating positive resolutions.
Generally Be aware of Your Emotions
Putting a pin in our emotions with a 'I'll deal with that later' approach can at times be useful. The supermarket may not be the place to talk about something that's upset you. However try not to constantly put your emotions to one side. If you do you may find they'll have a habit of sneaking up on you and overwhelming you. When this happens it can be more difficult to communicate and for your partner to be able to properly listen, or for you to take in their responses. So even if you need to think about things later, give yourself the time and space to recognise and acknowledge your emotions and feelings, both positive and negative.
Approach conversation as a collaboration. No winners or losers
Make sure when talking you go into it as equals. In a relationship you're partners, neither is better than the other, nor should you be trying to 'win'. Just acknowledging this can help you both be more willing to listen to the other and take in what they're saying.
Avoid Your Own Agenda and Put Your Opinions to One Side
When have have our own agenda, we can want to steer people's opinions to get what we want. However this means that we usually stop listening very quickly, waiting to get our opinion across. Put your agenda to one side for a moment and listen to what your partner is saying. You can then address these points when they've finished, or they may raise some good points you hadn't thought of and sway your opinion. Just avoid stifling your partner expressing themselves, as otherwise you won't be able to hear what they say.
This can be a little trickier to do when the issues they have are about you, and it's not always possible to remain entirely objective and neutral, but the more you try and see things from their side, the better and more appropriate your response can be.
Listen Respectfully, Even if You're Angry
If you're just going to shout at someone, it's rarely going to make for a constructive conversation. You may be annoyed with someone, but you should always try and listen to their side, as it may change things. Maybe there was a valid reason for what they did, maybe it was all just a misunderstanding. If you don't let them talk and listen to what they've got to say, you'll never know. If you are someone that simply can't listen when angry, maybe take a few minutes to calm down until you're in a position where you feel like you can have a more adult conversation.
Communication in Age Gap Relationships:
Being an age gap couple, we're aware that effective communication in age different relationships may be even higher up the list of skills needed for a successful relationship.
The Importance of Communication in Age Gap Relationships
Because you have grown up in different eras, with different communication styles more prevalent, listening skills and learning to communicate effectively with older or younger partners can be said to be even more important (and why we wrote this
Tips on How to Listen in Age Gap Relationships
We hope the previous tips have been useful in communicating effectively in your age gap relationship. Here are a few extra key areas to note that are specific to age gap relationships
Impact of Different Eras
Remember that you were brought up in different periods, so be aware that with that has come different upbringings. You may have slightly different opinions (e.g. modern music sounds crap) and values (e.g. loyalty, friendship, financial security). Opinions can be changed much more easily than values. usually don't need attention, but are great for understanding why someone might feel the way they do.
You will likely have different frames of reference, different skill sets, abilities with technology use. This in part is what makes age gap relationships great, but can also be a source of frustration. Don't dismiss each other as stupid when they don't pick things up when explained to them, as some of these skills - particularly technology use for older generations - may not come easily.
We really hope you found this post useful to help improve your listening skills for a happier, healthier relationship
x The Age Gap Guys x
Why it's important to be a good listener | Relate
How to Improve Your Relationship Listening Skills | LoveToKnow
How Couples Can Improve Their Listening Skills | Reader's Digest (rd.com)
5 Tips for Improving Your Listening in a Relationship (chopra.com)
Blog Therapy, Therapy, Therapy Blog, Blogging Therapy, Therapy,.. (goodtherapy.org)