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"Are you listening to me?": Tips on helping your partner feel heard and understood

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Listening is an underrated art. Get it right, and our partner feels heard and understood. Get it wrong, and we run our responses on (often old) assumptions that very often miss the mark, and lead to arguments.

This happens because we are often forming our own counter-arguments when our partner is talking. Listening with an open heart (and ears!) while suspending our own agenda is an essential relationship skill to really hear what our partner is saying.

It can be challenging to really tune in to what our partner is saying. It is tempting to be thinking about a clever quip, witty response, or how this relates to you and making the conversation self-referential, when really your partner is trying to share something with you. The other tendency we can have when we feel criticised or attacked is to begin formulating our defence or justification in response to what our partner is saying. Often when we do this, we can actually miss critical information, and the opportunity for miscommunication and lack of understanding greatly increases.

Applying a mindfulness approach to listening is helpful. This means focusing your attention on what your partner is saying in the here and now.

In my practice I often encourage couples to listen like an elephant - big ears, small mouth, not like a hippo - small ears, big mouth.

Be curious and enter into their world. Think about giving your partner the space to go deeper. Here open-ended questions (i.e., questions that does not have a yes/no answer) can be really helpful - for example, questions starting with What or How. If you want your partner to open up to you more, you can say: Tell me more...

Tip: The (free) Gottman Card Deck App has some further prompting questions in the Great Listening section (Google Play (Android) or App Store (Apple)

It's important to be mindful of how your partner is affected by what they are sharing - what is their emotional state?

Show your empathy by putting yourself in your partner's shoes to really get a sense for what they are communicating.

Below are some tips for great listening skills. It also includes some important ideas on how you can communicate what you heard your partner say. Mirroring/reflecting it back can be helpful to (a) check your understanding and (b) give your partner the opportunity to elaborate on details, or highlight important bits. It's helpful to follow this up with communicating empathy and validating your partner.

Remember, we feel cherished and respected when we are truly listened to. Think about how you can create that kind of receptive atmosphere for your partner to share what is going on for them.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.



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