By Parenting Research Centre
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Knowing what your partner thinks, and why, can make a real difference to how well you both cope with the challenges that come with raising children. This is where good listening skills come in.

Listening: why it’s important

Listening can lead to a better understanding between you and your partner and can strengthen your long-term relationship. Listening also makes it easier for you to solve problems together, and to be consistent in how you behave towards your children. All of this makes raising children easier, and benefits the whole family.

Listening is important in helping your children develop the skills they need for life. They learn from seeing what you do and say, including how you relate to and talk to each other.

Listening: the basics

Good listening starts with simple steps like:

  • looking for ways to really pay attention when your partner speaks
  • encouraging your partner to talk
  • showing that you understand your partner’s perspective – even when you don’t agree with it
  • waiting until your partner finishes speaking before giving your own opinion.

Tips for listening

If you’re in a relationship that involves violence, seek professional help and do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of you and your children.

Ideas and tips Things to do
Stop whatever you are doing so you can look at your partner and pay full attention to his words and body language. If you’re too distracted to listen, say so, and set another time to talk.
Save questions or comments for after your partner has finished. Wait until your partner pauses, even if there’s something you don’t understand. Focus on not distracting your partner.
Focus on understanding your partner’s point of view and feelings about the situation. Avoid jumping in with ‘Yes, but’ as a way of explaining your perspective. Let your partner finish the point.
Ask questions that encourage your partner to talk instead of giving a yes or no answer. Avoid too many questions – this can sound like an interrogation. Try getting your partner to describe her experiences or views by asking open-ended questions. For example, ‘Tell me about … ’. You can give your partner positive feedback and ask some questions to try to understand what your partner is saying.
Confirm whether you’ve understood what your partner means. Restate your partner’s comments in your own words. This helps to confirm whether you understand the issue and your partner’s feelings.
Show that you’re interested in finding out more by asking for clarification. Try clarifying your partner’s feelings about an issue. For example, ‘I get the feeling that you’re frustrated with the way this has been going’. Be genuine – your partner will know when you’re really interested.
Try not to assume that your partner is being hurtful, or is the one with the problem. If your partner says or does something hurtful, look for positive or neutral intentions behind it.

Getting help

If you and your partner need help communicating, there are many sources of support.
  • Last updated or reviewed 01-09-2011
  • Acknowledgements The Parents and Teamwork series was produced with support from the Victorian Government Department of Human Services. © Copyright Victorian Government Department of Human Services 2005