Best Ways to Practice Active Listening in Your Relationship for Better Communication
One of the biggest complaints I hear from my married friends is that their husbands don't listen to them. And, I remember in my past relationships, I felt unheard… often.
Are you the one in the relationship who is not getting listened to, or are you the one who needs to learn to practice active listening?
Either way, educating yourself about active listening is the first step! You can help your partner be a better listener, too, while working on yourself.
Effective Communication in Marriage: Best Ways to Practice Active Listening for Better Relationships
My journey to effective communication and active listening is still ongoing, and I think it always will be. While my husband is great with active listening and communication, because he's put the work in, it's never been something that I've prioritized until my current relationship.
Because we haven't had many issues in our relationship, I didn't really think about how active listening could improve our relationship. But even the best relationships have to be worked on actively or they won't stay the best. 🙂
If your partner isn't actively listening to you, you may need to show them by example – and point it out as you're doing it so they can practice listening to you as well.
Short on time?
This article is long but if you want the TL;DR version, it's this:
Stop what you're doing, including talking, and tune into what your partner is saying as if it's a radio station meant just for you. Instead of thinking about how you're going to respond (yes, even during a disagreement), stop and listen to what they're saying. Then, pause. Take a moment to process what was said.
When you respond, use phrases that show them you were listening when they were speaking. And while you're listening, give them nonverbal cues that what they're saying is important to you (i.e. look them in the eyes, stay off your phone, etc). Active listening can improve the bond you have with your partner, and can level you up as a person – it's a great life skill to have.
What is active listening in a marriage or relationship?
Active listening in a marriage is the process of genuinely focusing on your spouse, understanding their message, and responding thoughtfully. This demonstrates that you truly care about their thoughts and feelings. It's a crucial skill for effective communication and building a strong, lasting bond in your relationship.
Active listening helps validate your partner's feelings, and opens the door for a deeper conversation. Feeling heard makes us open in so many ways!
I've said this a lot, but active listening isn't one of my super powers… so I've been working on it. And here's what I've learned:
Be fully present
Give your spouse your undivided attention when they're speaking. Put away any distractions like your phone or laptop, and maintain eye contact to show that you're genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Try to understand your partner's emotions and feelings by putting yourself in their shoes. Acknowledge their emotions and validate their experiences to show you care about their perspective.
Listen without interrupting
Allow your spouse to express themselves completely without interjecting your own thoughts or opinions. Wait until they've finished speaking before you respond.
Paraphrase and clarify
To ensure you've understood your spouse's message, repeat their main points in your own words, and ask if your interpretation is accurate. This not only helps avoid misunderstandings but also demonstrates your attentiveness.
When you are asking clarifying questions, your tone of voice is important. Don't be argumentative, sarcastic, or condescending – even if you're in the middle of a disagreement. There are plenty of ways to ask questions without escalating a not-so-great situation.
Active listening is important whether it's a positive or negative conversation, or even if it's an argument or disagreement. But remember: it takes two people to argue. If you stop the argument by listening to hear your partner rather than listening to respond, you will be much happier with the outcome.
Ask open-ended questions
Encourage your spouse to share more by asking open-ended questions that can't be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” These inquiries invite them to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings, deepening the conversation.
Use nonverbal cues like nodding, smiling, giving confirming facial expressions, or leaning in to show your engagement and understanding. These subtle gestures can make your spouse feel heard and supported.
Once your partner has finished speaking (don't be a bad listener and interrupt!), you can take a moment to process their message before responding if you need to. Offer constructive feedback, but not unsolicited advice. If advice what they're looking for, share your own perspective in a way that's respectful and considerate of their feelings.
I'm the Queen of giving unsolicited advice, so many times I'll ask, “do you want my advice, or are you just venting?” When my husband does this, it actually diffuses things before they start going a bad way. I don't like when people assume things, so I get a little testy at times LOL. But if he asks specifically whether I want advice or just want to vent, I can tell him.
I know, I know… super hypocritical to be the Queen of unsolicited advice while simultaneously hating unsolicited advice. 😉
How does active listening help improve your relationship?
By practicing these active listening techniques, you'll strengthen the emotional connection with your spouse and create a supportive environment for open and honest communication.
Communication is one of the biggest parts of a successful relationship, and active listening plays a critical role in effective communication. Good listening skills are something we learn from a young age, but end up losing quickly because of all the noise of the world.
Showing your partner you care enough to stop what you're doing and listen, while actively engaging in a conversation with them about the topic, is a show of faith that you're putting effort into your relationship. You're making deposits into that piggy bank we always talk about.
How can I listen with ADHD?
Listening is not a natural skill for me AT ALL, probably because I'm neurodiverse. I get bored soooo easily, especially when someone is droning on and on about a topic I'm not interested in. It's so easy to get wrapped up in my own thoughts and zone out, but that's NOT good for a relationship. In fact, it's rude.
While I do enjoy listening to my husband, it is something I have to work on daily. I love seeing how excited he gets talking about his favorite topics. I make an effort to give him my full attention when he is speaking.
It isn't always perfect: sometimes we have our cell phones out and sometimes we get distracted. At the end of the day it isn't about being perfect, it's about trying. If you're actively trying to focus and listen, even when your brain is trying to pull you away, your partner should acknowledge and appreciate that.
In a new relationship, you may have to explain that you have ADHD and what that means to you specifically, because each person with ADHD is different.
When you find your partner is talking about something that may not be as interesting to you (with Kevin, it's car engines and watches), try to focus on their emotions instead. Kevin gets so excited about watches and loves to talk about their inner-workings. I couldn't care less how a watch worked, but seeing his face light up to talk about it makes me want to learn.
In these situations, I put on my active listening ears and I try to pick up words here and there even if they aren't all coming through. I make sure I'm smiling, nodding along, paying attention, and asking questions.
This shows my husband I'm putting effort into listening. Not only is this a sign of respect, it's making deposits into your relationship piggy bank. We all know our spouses are more eager to make deposits if they see us making deposits as well.
Magic Behind Active Listening ✨
Is active listening the secret to a healthy and thriving relationship? Some think so… and they may be correct!
Want a fabulous relationship that stands the test of time? Make active listening your new BFF. It's the secret sauce for creating a deep emotional bond that goes way beyond casual chit-chat.
You know how the first few dates go; it's difficult to get to the real topics because both parties seem to be walking on eggshells. Because of this, things can come up later in the relationship that can cause problems.
All of this can be solved by being an active listener – and sharing openly – from the beginning. If you're already in a relationship or even if you're married, good news: you can use these tips starting right now – you don't have to start over from the beginning!
The transformative effects of truly hearing your partner
When you really hear your partner, you don't just catch their words – you “get” the emotions and thoughts behind them. This effort on your part builds a connection and creates a loving space for empathy, trust, and harmony.
Even if you're in the middle of an argument, 9 times out of 10, shutting up and listening will cool everything down. Is that always the solution? Maybe not.
But I can tell you that no matter how upset I am, if my husband is being an active listener and trying to help solve the problem at hand, the argument gets diffused instead of me blowing up (hey, I'm working on it).
Is it the same with you? If someone sits down and listens – without feeling the need to interrupt or argue – doesn't it take your anger and anxiety down a notch almost instantly? Now imagine you doing that for your partner… imagine how your relationship will change from this one simple act.
Create an Environment Conducive to Listening
Ready to listen like a pro? First, ditch the distractions. Silence your phone, turn off the TV, and give your partner your undivided attention. It's time to be truly present! 🎁
The problem we have in today's world is that everything is connected by screens and electronics. This is great for communicating from people around the world, but often times, our own partners are neglected in the process.
How much effort do you put into listening to your friends? Probably quite a bit, or they wouldn't be your friends for long. Do you give your partner the same attention? Really, you should be giving them even more than you give your friends.
I'm not saying your partner has to be your entire world; that's not it at all! What I'm saying is your spouse should be #1 – it's you against the world. If you aren't making them feel like they're #1, it's time to make some changes by actively listening to what they need… and then hopefully being able to give that to them (or at least make it a discussion).
If you have a problem with phones and gadgets taking too much of your time (video games, TikTok, you name it), put them away and get outside! Go to the park, take a walk, get a coffee at the local café.
And inside, set a timer for your usage. In my relationship, phone usage hasn't been a big deal. My husband doesn't use social media, and the only reason I use it is for work.
However, we both have our vices on our phone (him, idle games; me, Midjourney) and off (him, video games; me, being a workaholic).
So the rule is if either of us wants the attention to be drawn to us and away from the phone or computer, there's no hemming and hawing about it. It's just, “hey babe, let's do something else” and we do it.
Another rule at our house is that we are both in bed by 11PM. If we aren't tired, we can talk, cuddle, play games on our phones together, etc but we've gotta be in bed with each other.
It seems silly to need “rules” like this but they're really just reminders. We are both workaholics and will stay online writing blog posts for hours and hours at a time if we don't set timers, reminders, and parameters. Having a rule of being in bed by 11 ensures my night owl husband spends time with me at night instead of typing away until 2AM.
On the flip side, I'm an early bird and I don't leave bed before 6AM. If I'm up at 4, I'll work from my phone, but Kevin wants a warm body next to him until at least 6 LOL.
Give Your Partner the Time They Deserve ⏳
Let your partner speak first. Hold your horses there! Let your partner speak without interrupting them, no matter how excited you are to share your own thoughts. If you'll forget them, ask your partner if they mind you typing a few words into a Notes app in your phone so you can actively listen and also remember what you want to say next.
Embrace the beauty of silence. Pauses give both of you time to think, absorb, and maybe even share a little more. It's like a mental hug for your conversation. If you find yourself wanting to respond as a knee-jerk reaction – especially in a negative way – slowly count to 10 in your head and take some deep breaths.
Don't make this obvious and don't be passive aggressive about it, but do what you can to calm down and really reflect and process what your partner just said. Being an active listener doesn't mean responding as soon as the other person's lips stop moving!
Spend Quality Time Together
Whether you decide to pick from our list of ultimate stay at home date ideas, or go out on the town (whichever town that is, we have lots on our blog – use the search!), spending quality time together is the best way to get in some active listening practice.
Put Yourself in Your Partner's Shoes 👟
To truly empathize with your partner, tap into their emotions and decode their meaning, if you can. If you're autistic like me, or if you struggle to understand your partner's emotions, it's okay to ask clarifying questions. Just be sure to do it at an appropriate time.
If they're crying because their cat died, for example, they just need you to hug them. They don't need anything else in that moment and nothing you say will be very helpful anyway, so just be there for emotional support.
The Power of Paraphrasing
Repeating in your own words, or paraphrasing, shows your partner you're being attentive. This doesn't mean taking notes and reading them back, it just means making sure you remember a few important words or phrases from what they're saying.
Then, you try to incorporate those words or phrases back into your part of the conversation so your partner sees how attentive you've being!
Paraphrasing also ensures you're on the same page. If you say something to your partner that they feel is way out in left field, they can give you some clarity so you can better understand what they were saying and where they were coming from with it.
Asking Thoughtful Questions 🎤
Ask open-ended and avoid judgment. No one likes a judgey partner! Approach your partner's thoughts and feelings with curiosity and compassion. This judgment-free zone will encourage openness and trust. 💖
Overreacting, reacting negatively, or ignoring your partner will only show them you don't prioritize their thoughts, feelings, or what they have to say. Be careful and take a beat before responding, especially if you're upset. I know I already said this, but as someone who has a lot of experience with blowing up and having to apologize later… trust me on this one.
Praising the positives🏆
No matter how big or small, go big when celebrating! Show appreciation for their efforts, and be their biggest cheerleader. Even if it seems mundane, or it's something that happens all the time, keep the magic alive by planning a picnic or romantic backyard date for you and your honey to enjoy and celebrate.
The ripple effect of actively listening: you'll notice improved communication in all areas of your life!