Ear to the ground

Listening as an essential relationship skill

Listening is essential for a healthy relationship.  It’s not as easy as we might think, and you may be shocked to realise how little true listening we do. 

Imagine a spring evening, walking slowly and opening to the sounds around you.  Can you hear the call and response of the birds? Such beauty beyond our habitual world.  Mostly we inhabit our thought world, a mindscape generated from planning, thinking, worrying … pre-empting, judging or blaming.  Listening is an important key to enter this bigger world and discovering new possibilities.  Feel the difference between being in your head and opening to the world around you.

This short video from The School of Life is called “How to be a good Listener”.  It shares useful tips to be a good listener and how it is the key to a good society.

Familiarity of everyday life can fuel automatic living.  We can pre-empt, expect and assume what our partner is feeling, thinking and saying because we imagine that they are how they have been before. We can assume our partner is like us and project our own values and feelings onto them. 


If we assign no value to how we feel a lot of important experience can go under the radar until it builds up and erupts unexpectedly.


Listening can mean being informed and responsive to our partner co-creating a resilient and intimate relationship. It feels good.  As the listener we get to understand our partner and create connection.  We build rapport and trust and can be on the same side again rather than enemies. When we listen our partners are more likely to listen to us in turn. 


Great relationships are made, not from everything going well and being perfect, but from inevitable disappointments and difficulties being noticed, talked about and worked out.  Listening enables the most important element in healthy relationships which is repair.


When we don’t listen our relationships suffer.  Relationships no longer feel loving or affirming.  Relationships become reactive with control and/or retaliation or empty and unsatisfying as couples resign themselves to the status quo.


How heard do you feel in relationship?  How does it feel when you feel seen, heard and understood? How does it feel when you don’t feel seen, heard and understood?

Listening is a simple skill we learn that has the power to change the world.  Like all skills we need to learn and practise every day.


Join the Listening Revolution


I believe we are not great listeners at the best of times but when it comes to difficult times in relationship this is exceptionally hard to do.  As a couples counsellor working with couples since 2008 I have witnessed how hard it is for couples to listen.  Time and time again couples gain the skill of listening, and their relationship is transformed immeasurably.

Here are some thoughts for building good listening skills:

Difficult conversations are a gift

Relational, intimate conversations mean there are no surprises lurking in the relationship that you have to fear or avoid. Healthy relationships thrive because honest connection is happening on a regular basis. When either person flags the wish to talk this is a great gift for the relationship. Relationships diminish when conversations are avoided for fear of tainting good times or opening a can of worms.  The erosive cycle of avoiding honest conversations means that overdue conversations usually spark a great deal of fear and anger.

Are you ready to listen? 

If you are busy, distracted or feel unprepared share this with your loved one who wants to talk.  If necessary, agree a time that is right for both of you when you can be truly present. Take a few moments to still your mind, allowing the space for new information to enter. 

Remember you are both doing your best.

The point of any conversation is to understand what’s great and what’s not. It’s not about blame and finding fault.  We are all imperfect beings. Paradoxical change means the more you accept yourself in all your flaws and imperfections the more you become the whole and healthy person you are meant to be.  Your loved one is needing you to listen because you are an important person in their life. 

Couples cannot get it right all the time.  Relationships have problems.  In fact, problems help to grow your love.  Accepting your relationship in all its flaws and imperfections mean paradoxically the relationship can become the loving and wonderful relationship it is meant to be.

Listening to others requires you to listen and take care of yourself

Can you tolerate discovering disappointing aspects of yourself or your loved one?  Hearing about your impact on your partner is like looking in a 360°mirror that will at times be uncomfortable and challenging to your self-esteem.  However, if you can stay within your emotional centre of gravity or within your safe zone you will be able to respond rather than react. If you’re taking things personally, PAUSE.  This is one of the most important tips for engaging in relational conversations. 

You don’t have to agree with them.

Understanding your differences is the purpose of listening.  If there is only one truth there is only one person in the relationship. 

Can you hear the other from an open mind?

The purpose of listening is to discover what you do not know about the other person’s experience. What are they saying about their reality?  

Our conscious self makes up only the tip of the iceberg and through listening we may discover that there is so much more. By taking time and with encouraging prompts your loved one may also discover unconscious feelings from wounds incurred in the here-and-now, recent history or deep in the past. 


Getting out of the way of yourself


So often we are listening to the other and hearing only how it relates to ME.  Can you hold your concentration to focus on the other?  When you listen, it is really about them.  Of course, you are hearing about things you do that are infuriating/frustrating/”wrong’ but can you hear about how this is for them and what it means for them?


It takes practice to take what you hear seriously rather than personally.


Listening is one of the essential skills to love responsibly.  Other skills include empathy, presence, speaking your truth, psychological flexibility, personal responsibility, repair and appreciation.

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