Are you listening to hear or to talk?
Anyone who’s ever been in a successful relationship will tell you that the key to long-lasting love is communication.
Partners who can clearly, efficiently and regularly articulate what they need, want or feel are miles ahead of those who struggle with communication.
And sure, some people are just naturally better at talking and expressing themselves than others – but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be alone if you’re not a skilled communicator.
If you’re ready and willing to put in the work to be a better partner, the most important thing to work on is active listening.
Here’s what it is and how to apply it to your relationship:
What is active listening?
Isn’t active listening just… listening? For some, it might be. But it’s definitely not the case for everyone. The act of listening, registering the words that someone is saying, is only half of the job.
An active listener is an engaged listener, someone who is comprehending what the other person is saying, interpreting it and storing the information.
It’s showing reactions and emotion to the story you’re hearing and interjecting with comments and questions at the right moment.
But how does one learn to be an active listener? Pinky promise, at one point it will come naturally, but until then, you have to practice, and here’s how:
Give full attention
Don’t listen while you’re scrolling through Instagram or watching TV or driving or gardening or cooking or doing literally anything else but listening.
Don’t even do it while walking, because you can get distracted by other things. Sit down, face the person who is talking to you and devote your full attention.
But, you may ask, you’re not always the one to choose the situation you’re in when someone starts talking to you. If you’re already in the middle of something, ask if it is important. If they say it is, leave what you’re doing and talk to them.
If it can wait, finish what you started and remember to go back to the conversation. Keep in mind that you might have to be the one to restart the conversation later, which is also showing that you were listening when they first tried to talk to you.
This might seem like such a trivial thing that is too easy to even be worth writing down, but if you start paying attention, you’ll be surprised by how often you’re not actively giving someone full attention while they’re talking.
Go back to subjects
A good way to show that you are listening and comprehending what your partner is saying is to go back to a subject you previously talked about.
If they mention that they really liked some actor in a movie, and you watch a different movie with that actor, something as small as saying “…you know that one, that you really loved in Titanic?” will show that you were listening and taking in information.
You can also show it through action. If they mentioned that their child is struggling with grades, when you find a great home tutor, write down the number and give it to them.
When they mention their favorite food or what they’re allergic to, don’t make them say it again every time you have a meal together.
But don’t go all “white knight” on them either, emphasizing how you’ve paid attention and remembered – just do the deed and they will notice that you heard them without you saying anything.
Fewer monologues, more dialogues
You might think that being a good listener means shutting up and just listening to your partner. This isn’t the case, and it’s the trickiest thing to pull off right.
If you’re just sitting there, you might as well not be listening, because your lack of reaction isn’t sending the right signals.
On the other hand, if you interject at the wrong moment, it will be obvious that you weren’t listening to them because you spoke before they’ve finished their thought.
So, you need to actively listen: when they finish a thought, feel free to comment or ask further questions. But if they aren’t finished with their thought, even if they are taking a break, don’t speak and interrupt them.
You will have the chance to say your part afterwards. This is especially important during tense moments, like an argument, because cutting each other off and not letting one person say what they have and actively listening to them will only cause the fight to escalate.
You don’t have to say anything for your partner to know that you’re listening if you show what you feel on your face while they are talking.
Emoting with your face is the clearest sign that you are actively listening, so things like gasping, shaking your head in disbelief or nodding in agreement are all good non-verbal signs that you are listening to them.
Some people have tried to fake non-verbal signs to make it seem like they’re listening when they’re really not, but that can lead to catastrophic results, such as nodding to something completely backwards or smiling during a segment you really shouldn’t be smiling for.
So just stop trying to fake anything and actually listen to your partner when they are speaking.
Is active listening sometimes too much work? No. You are with the person you care about and if you can’t devote enough of your time and mental energy to just truly listen to what they’re saying, then you are probably with the wrong person.
And if you notice that they aren’t listening to you, make sure you tell them that you need them to listen and that it’s important to you that they hear what you are saying.
Just be there to support each other and work on your communication just like you work on a schedule and putting away laundry and sharing a blanket.
Successful communication is literally half of your relationship and there’s no way of going about without it, so start listening and fall even more in love when you realize what fantastic things they are saying.