Practicing Active Listening Can Improve Your Relationship

Couple talking over coffee in kitchenOften partners are convinced that they are excellent listeners. However, when asked, many partners are unable to give an adequate summary of what their partner was saying. Partners aren’t always conscious of their tendency to plan what they are going to say next.

Some partners are busy preparing a defense if the other partner is listing complaints or has been very upset. Here, the inability to listen redirects the focus away from the talking partner toward the listener, and the conversation becomes more about the listener’s point of view instead of the partner talking about his or her problem. Often this development will cause the initiator to get even more upset, and the conversation can easily develop into a back-and-forth, escalating argument about who is right and wrong and what the point of the discussion is.

In this article, I am going to highlight what active listening entails. If you find yourself thinking you and your partner have communication problems, and aren’t quite sure about how to fix them, I want you to know that practicing active listening can greatly improve how you communicate and will ultimately help your relationship.

  • Listening is a relationship skill most of us haven’t learned. Active listening is, if practiced and mastered, the best gift you can give your partner.
  • Listening is an activity where you are not just waiting for your turn to speak. This kind of listening means you are concentrating on and making an effort to understand your partner’s point of view and how she/he is thinking and feeling.
  • Listening is an emotional skill that is a lot harder than engaging in counter-complaints when your partner lists her/his complaints. My best advice is to be aware of your best intentions and why the relationship is important to you.
  • Listening shows you are engaged and interested in what your partner has to say.
  • Listening also entails paying attention to your own and your partner’s body language. Eye contact is especially important to show you care. Reading your partner’s body language can give you clues as to how she/he feels.
  • Listening shows you can manage your emotions and wait for your turn. Practice calming yourself by reminding yourself that this is more about your partner than about you. This is the ultimate gift you can give your partner when she/he is distressed. This should be combined with eye contact to show your partner that her/his opinions and emotions are important to you.
  • Asking questions is a better listening tool than explaining what you think about your partner’s problem. A good listener knows the value of asking clarifying questions, thus helping your partner talk more about her/his problem.
  • Giving a summary or recap of what your partner just said is an excellent way to show your genuine willingness to understand your partner.
  • When you listen to your partner talking about her/his distress, you might feel a strong urge to fix your partner’s problem right away. However, offering a solution isn’t always the best thing to do before you have heard your partner out. We all know the frustrations when we are met with, “Why don’t you …” remarks before we are done explaining. This can show that the listener finds it hard to witness the partner’s distress, ultimately disincentivizing the partner from talking about her/his problem.

As an effective listener, you are able to help your partner discover her/his feelings about a particular problem she/he is having. When you are able to set your own emotions aside for the time being, you can rest assured that the probability of your partner being able to listen, when you have something to talk about later, will be a lot higher.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Irene Hansen Savarese, LMFT

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Lucas

    May 16th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    Whoa, I have to get my wife to read this.
    She always claims to be listening to me, but how can I talk to her and expect her to really hear what I am when saying when she is off in another room doing something else? I just can’t have a conversation with her while she is folding laundry any more than she feels like she can talk to me and have my undivided attention when I am watching a football game. She has this crazy double standard that she thinks I should drop everything to listen to her, but that she can multitask and do both. Well I want the same thing from her that she always expects from me.

  • JoAnn Jordan

    May 18th, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    Active listening can be powerful in many of our life relationships. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips.

  • Linda Esposito

    May 20th, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    Wonderful article, Irene. Isn’t it odd that people consider themselves good listeners? I wonder if these are individuals in therapy or in general?

    I think giving a summary or a recap should be a mandatory practice of all couples—but wait, you’d be out of a job, right?

  • Marc Wong

    May 20th, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Excellent points. I define listening as the art and practice of putting someone else’s speaking, thinking and feeling needs ahead of your own.
    The opposite is as you described: we interrupt, worry about our responses and miss stuff, advise, dismiss, etc.

  • irenesavarese

    June 8th, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    Thank you for reading my article and taking the time to make a comment!
    I think that people in general have trouble listening when they feel attacked.
    Listening is about actively making an effort to understand and asking questions to help the talking partner making her/his points. This is easier to do if the talking partner avoids attacking remarks. The talking and the listening partner have different roles and responsibilities. I teach my couples the art of talking (initiating) and listening (inquiring). Because these are different roles, it works best if we take turns when we are practicing.
    I will suggest that the listening partner ask the talking partner if he/she feels heard and understood. Continue until partner feels understood before you switch roles.
    I am working on an article about how to communicate so that the listener can hear what is being said.

    Sincerely Irene Savarese

  • Jacob M

    December 6th, 2016 at 3:18 PM

    I am only getting to read this in 2016 yet the article is so helpful. Timely advice there. Thank you for sharing.

  • lawrence

    January 3rd, 2017 at 12:43 AM

    ilike it and iwant to learn more

  • Dana

    August 24th, 2021 at 9:51 PM

    Active listening is very important in a relationship and is hard for some people to do ….thanks great article look forward to reading more.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.