Testing, Testing... How To Be a Better Listener in a Relationship?

It’s no secret that humans often communicate with machines in this modern era more than each other. We ask digital assistants about the weather, use the self-checkout kiosk at the grocery store and do our banking with ever-helpful finance apps.

What little communication skills people do pick up are easily lost to digital distractions and passive listening. This lack of communication skills has a ripple effect across our relationships, widening an emotional disconnect that invariably leads to more significant issues. 

That can be a big problem professionally and a disastrous one personally. So, how does a preoccupied partner mend their inattentive ways? Lend us your ears — we’re going to show you how to become a better listener in a relationship.

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Hearing Trouble

better listener in a relationship

A study conducted in 2013 surveyed 100 mental health professionals and found what many counselors already knew — that communication issues were the most common factor that led to breakups and divorce. 

Why is listening so hard to do in a relationship?

There are plenty of circumstances that contribute to the difficulty, but it boils down to that we’re often never really taught how to listen correctly. Listening requires time and effort and a willingness to step back and be present for someone else — which is more complex than it seems! You might get defensive or aggressive, be overly critical, or disengaged. That’s never good news for lovers. 

Poor communication can cause stress, sow seeds of doubt, breed resentment, and make partners feel hopeless and less valued. 

Here are a few hallmarks of a lousy listener. Try to see if you recognize any of these in yourself:

  • You’re distracted. We’ve all experienced it — you’re pouring your heart out, and the other person is glancing at their phone with their eyes glazed over. They’ll kindly say “mmhm” every so often, usually after a brief pause once they’ve realized you’ve stopped speaking. Ouch.

  • You have an agendaWhether it’s to brag, acquire information or create an opportunity to share something about yourself, bringing a schedule to a conversation precludes you from being an active listener.

  • You’re thinking about what you’re going to say next. Maybe you’re talking about something insanely exciting, and you can’t wait to tell your piece. So you plan while the other person is talking. Sadly, you miss out on the gestures, cues, and what your partner says, making the convo one-sided.

  • You interrupt. Sometimes this goes hand in hand with thinking about what you’re going to say next. Interjections can be used to get the other person to slow down, so you understand, but other times they can derail a conversation.

  • You get heated or aggressive. Arguments are some of the most challenging times to be a good communicator, as even the best of us get emotional and have trouble keeping it together. All the same, the result is a conversation where neither side feels heard.

There’s no need to beat yourself up if you’re guilty of any of these. Everyone is a lousy listener from time to time. That doesn’t have to be the case for you with a bit of effort and intention.

Tips on How To Be a Better Listener in a Relationship

better listener men

It’s not just enough to learn how to listen to your partner better. It would be best if you learned how to be a better empathic listener in general. When you show your partner you understand and even share their feelings, they feel validated and heard. It will serve you in other relationships, too.

Below are some ways to sharpen your listening skills. 

Use Body Language

We’re wired to pick up on subtle cues, so engaged body language helps a ton — things like making eye contact, nodding, and leaning in all show your partner you’re an active and energetic listener. Watch your partner’s eyes, expressions, and gestures, too. See how they light up when they realize you’re captivated. 

Shut Out Any Distractions

You can look at conversations with your partner as an opportunity to clear your mind and be in the moment. Turn off monitors, put away your phone, and don’t think about what you’re doing for dinner. Use this as a chance to let that all float away. All you have to do is be present for your partner. Trust us; they’ll notice. 

Leave Your Ego and Judgment at the Door

Instead of judging, criticizing, or problem-solving, try to resist those impulses. Fully hear your partner out before you get defensive or offer advice. If they’re trying to vent, attempting to “fix” things for them can feel invalidating. 

Be Patient, Open, and Fair-Minded 

Even if you disagree with what’s being said, it’s vital to remain open-minded. Treat conversations as a learning opportunity. Stay patient while your significant other lays it all out before coming back with a thoughtful, fair-minded reply. 

Have Empathy

We all want to be heard. Strive to understand what your partner is saying. It’s okay to clarify with them when you’re not quite getting it. Once you know, you can validate and relate by letting them know you see their side of things or why they feel a certain way. Then show that you care by expressing solidarity or encouragement. 

Music To Your Ears

Every relationship has its ups and downs. Fights are unavoidable. But when you make an effort to communicate clearly and empathically, you have a much better shot at weathering the storms. You build intimacy and closeness when you share your thoughts and feelings. It shows you’re willing to make time for your significant other and devote attention to them.

That translates to the bedroom, too. An upside to having strong communication is better sex. Not only will your closeness and comfort in each other help you feel more confident and adventurous in bed, but you’ll be able to have frank discussions about sex.

You and your partner can only benefit by having a safe space to be open about your desires, fantasies, and preferences. Who knows? You might even discover an entirely new side to your loved one. 

Listen Up

effective listener

Effective listening isn’t always easy. It has to be a two-way street and doesn’t happen overnight. But when you and your loved one put in the work and learn how to be a better listener in a relationship, you know about the other and can only grow closer. 

You become privy to their hopes, dreams, fears, failures, and triumphs. You’ll learn about their innermost desires and share yours, too. You’ll discover what their facial expressions and body language mean, and with all that comes a solid understanding. That understanding will become the foundation that supports you through the good times and the bad.

In the end, your bond will only be more robust.

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The dying art of conversation — has technology killed our ability to talk face-to-face?. (March 2019). The Conversation. 

Want Your Marriage To Last?. (November 2013). YourTango. 

How Poor Communication Causes Stress. (November 2020). VeryWellMind. 

How to Be a Better Listener. (March 2019). The New York Times. 

Why (and How) to Be a Better Listener in Your Relationship. (June 2017). Psychology Today. 

Want Great Sex? Then ‘Listen’ Up!. (January 2016). HuffPost.

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