Every relationship has its ups and downs, but one key factor that can make or break a partnership is communication. And while we often focus on what we say and how we say it, the other half of effective communication is listening. Being a good listener can deepen your connection, foster understanding, and help you navigate conflicts more smoothly. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind active listening and share practical tips for becoming a better listener in your relationship.

Why listening matters

Listening is not just about hearing the words your partner says. It’s about being fully present, attuned to their emotions, and seeking to understand their perspective. When you listen attentively, you show your partner that you value their thoughts and feelings. This validation can strengthen your bond and make them feel more secure in the relationship.1

Moreover, good listening skills can help you defuse arguments and resolve issues more effectively. By taking the time to truly understand your partner’s point of view, you can find common ground and work towards solutions that meet both of your needs.2

Common barriers to listening

Despite the importance of listening, many of us struggle with it at times. Some common barriers include:3

  • Distractions: It’s hard to listen when your mind is elsewhere or you’re multitasking.
  • Defensiveness: If you feel attacked or criticized, you may focus on formulating your rebuttal instead of hearing your partner out.
  • Assumptions: Sometimes, we jump to conclusions or think we know what our partner will say, causing us to tune out.
  • Emotional reactivity: Strong emotions like anger or anxiety can cloud our ability to listen objectively.

Recognizing these barriers is the first step to overcoming them and becoming a more present, empathetic listener.

Active listening techniques

Active listening is a skill that takes practice, but it can transform the way you communicate with your partner. Here are some key techniques:4

Give your full attention

When your partner is speaking, put away distractions like your phone or the TV. Make eye contact, turn your body towards them, and give nonverbal cues (like nodding) to show you’re engaged. One of the most heart-felt phrases I’ve ever heard world-renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman say is: “Nothing is more important to me than my listening to you right now.”

Don’t interrupt

Allow your partner to fully express their thoughts without jumping in to offer your opinion or advice. If you need clarification, wait for a natural pause to ask questions.

Reflect and validate

Paraphrase what you’ve heard to ensure you understand, and validate your partner’s feelings even if you disagree. You might say something like, “It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated at work. That must be really frustrating.”

Ask open-ended questions

Encourage your partner to elaborate by asking open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. For example, “What was going through your mind when that happened?” or “How did that make you feel?”

Withhold judgment

Try to listen without mentally critiquing or formulating your response. Approach the conversation with curiosity and an open mind.

Listening in action: An example

To illustrate these concepts, let’s consider Stephen and Jeff, a same-sex couple who have been together for three years. One evening, Stephen comes home from work visibly upset. Instead of minimizing Stephen’s feelings or offering quick fixes, Jeff puts his phone away and invites Stephen to share what’s on his mind.

As Stephen vents about a coworker who took credit for his idea, Jeff resists the urge to interject with his own opinions. Instead, he nods encouragingly and reflects back what he’s hearing: “Wow, that’s infuriating. It sounds like you put a lot of work into that proposal and feel betrayed by your coworker’s actions.”

This validation helps Stephen feel heard and supported. Jeff then asks some follow-up questions to better understand the situation and brainstorm potential solutions together. By creating a safe, nonjudgmental space for Stephen to express himself, Jeff deepens their connection and helps Stephen process a difficult experience.

The benefits of being a good listener

Improving your listening skills can have far-reaching positive effects on your relationship. Research shows that active listening promotes greater relationship satisfaction, intimacy, and trust.5 It also helps couples manage stress and navigate challenges more successfully.6

Moreover, modeling good listening can inspire your partner to reciprocate. When you both feel heard and understood, you create a positive feedback loop that enhances your overall communication and strengthens your bond.7


Being a good listener is a critical component of a healthy, fulfilling relationship. You foster deeper connection and intimacy by giving your full attention, withholding judgment, and seeking to understand your partner’s perspective. While listening well takes practice and patience, the benefits – from greater trust to more effective problem-solving – are well worth the effort. So the next time your partner wants to talk, remember to put away distractions, open your mind, and truly listen. Your relationship will thank you.


  1. Kuhn, R., Bradbury, T. N., Nussbeck, F. W., & Bodenmann, G. (2018). The power of listening: Lending an ear to the partner during dyadic coping conversations. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(6), 762-772.
  2. Weger, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.
  3. Roggensack, K. E., & Sillars, A. (2014). Agreement and understanding about honesty and deception rules in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31(2), 178-199.
  4. Bodie, G. D., Vickery, A. J., Cannava, K., & Jones, S. M. (2015). The role of “active listening” in informal helping conversations: Impact on perceptions of listener helpfulness, sensitivity, and supportiveness and discloser emotional improvement. Western Journal of Communication, 79(2), 151-173.
  5. Kuhn, R. et al. IBID
  6. Afifi WA, Afifi TD. The relative impacts of disclosure and secrecy: the role of (perceived) target response. Curr Opin Psychol. 2020 Feb;31:94-98. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.08.015. Epub 2019 Aug 23. PMID: 31550636.
  7. Jones, S. M., Bodie, G. D., & Hughes, S. D. (2019). The impact of mindfulness on empathy, active listening, and perceived provisions of emotional support. Communication Research, 46(6), 838-865.