Why listening is important for communication and relationships
Listening can lead to better understanding between you and your partner. This can strengthen your long-term relationship.
Listening also makes it easier for you to solve problems together and be consistent in how you behave towards your children. This is good for your whole family.
When you listen and talk with your partner in positive and constructive ways, you help your children develop well and thrive. When children see you behaving and communicating with your partner in these ways, children learn to behave this way too. These are important social and communication skills for life.
Listening and communication: basic steps
Good listening starts with these simple steps:
- Pay attention when your partner speaks.
- Encourage your partner to talk.
- Check that you understand your partner’s perspective.
- Wait until your partner finishes before you speak.
1. Pay attention when your partner speaks
If your partner needs to talk, stop what you’re doing so you can look at your partner and give full attention to your partner’s words and body language.
You can show your partner that they have your full attention by:
- stopping what you’re doing
- facing your partner
- nodding to show that you’re listening
- making sure your arms are uncrossed.
If you’re too distracted to listen, say so, and set another time to talk.
2. Encourage your partner to talk
One of the best ways to encourage your partner to talk is by asking open-ended questions like ‘How did you feel when that happened?’ or ‘What do you think about that?’ These sorts of questions can get a conversation started and help your partner to share feelings and thoughts.
It’s best to avoid asking too many questions, though – this can sound like an interrogation.
Your body language can also encourage your partner to talk openly. For example, you can let your partner know they have your full attention by making eye contact and facing your body towards them.
3. Check that you understand your partner’s perspective
You can check that you understand the issue and your partner’s feelings by repeating your partner’s comments in your own words. If you’ve noticed an emotion in your partner’s body language or tone of voice – like stress, sadness or worry – you can try putting this into words too. For example, ‘It sounds like you’re feeling stressed about being responsible for school pick-ups every day’.
You can also ask for clarification. This shows that you’re interested in finding out more about your partner’s views and feelings. For example, ‘I get the feeling that you’re frustrated with the way this has been going. Is that right?’ Be genuine – your partner will know whether you’re really interested.
Checking and clarifying can help you avoid assumptions – for example, the assumption that your partner is being hurtful or is the one with the problem. This approach can also help you understand what’s going on if your partner says or does something that you feel is hurtful.
4. Wait until your partner finishes before you speak
It’s best to wait until your partner pauses before you speak, even if there’s something you don’t understand. This gives your partner the chance to fully express their thoughts and feelings.
When you think your partner has finished talking, thank your partner for talking to you. For example, ’I’m really glad you’ve spoken to me about this’. Then ask if now is a good time to share your thoughts and feelings. If it isn’t a good time, you can set aside some time later.
When you’re listening to your partner, try to think about your partner positively. For example, assume that your partner is doing their best and look out for your partner’s efforts to say things in a helpful and caring way.
Getting help with listening and communication
All relationships have their ups and downs. But if you’re really upset at the end of most conversations with your partner or you feel that you only ever get to listen and don’t get to share your thoughts and feelings, it might help to speak to someone.
Relationship counselling can help. You could try the following options:
- Call Relationships Australia in your state or territory on 1300 364 277.
- Call Family Relationships Online on 1800 050 321.
- See your GP to talk things through and get a referral to a psychologist or a relationship or family counselling service.
- Find a psychologist or counselling service through the Australian Psychology Society, Australian Counselling Association or Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.
If your partner doesn’t want to go to counselling with you, it’s still worth seeking help by yourself.
Family violence is not OK. If you’re in a relationship that involves family violence, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).