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Active Listening: What Does It Mean?

Madissyn Fredericks, Licensed Professional Counselor, Symmetry Counseling

We are told that “actively listening” to our significant others will help us connect and communicate with them more effectively. You may think you are a great listener, but the truth is most of us don’t listen as well as we could to those we care about. But what does it mean to “actively listen” to someone? Active listening is a model that includes building rapport and trust with another person both physically and verbally. By actively listening to your partner you will better understand, hear, and validate them during any conversation so they don’t feel discouraged or rejected. Meeting your partner’s vulnerability with warmth and acceptance will help them feel more comfortable opening up to you and bring you closer as a couple. If you are feeling like your active listening skills could be improved in your relationship, below are a few strategies to try with your partner.

1. Reflect

When your significant other is telling you something, try reflecting back what they have said. Bring together the facts and pieces of information you heard and relay the message back to them as you understood it. When you do this, you are checking in with your partner to make sure you are on the same page and helping them feel understood.

2. Clarify

There will be times when you feel you aren’t on the same page. When you are feeling this way, ask for clarification. You could start off with phrases such as “I don’t know if I am understanding you correctly…”, “It sounds like you are saying… Is that what you meant?”, or “Could you tell me more about..”. These statements help defer from making assumptions about what your partner is saying.

3. Body Language

Use your body language to convey to the other person that you are listening and paying attention. Some examples include nodding your head occasionally, having good eye contact, using facial expressions, having an “open posture”, and using minimal encouragers such as “uh huh”, “oh?”, or “and then…”. Body language is critical for active listening and adaptive communication.

4. Respond Appropriately

It can be easy to cut off your partner when you disagree or interrupt them to get your point across. However, doing this will make your significant other feel unimportant and shut down. Instead, try waiting until they are done making their point before asking questions or making counter-arguments. Welcome their point of view with curiosity and respect rather than rejection and criticism.

5. Validate

Acknowledge your significant other’s problems and feelings with phrases such as “I appreciate you opening up to me about this”, “I can see how you feel that way”, or “Thank you for sharing this with me”. Using phrases like these help your significant other feel safe enough to share vulnerable things with you and increases the chances of them being vulnerable with you in the future.

If you would like to improve your active listening skills in your relationship and would like support, it may be useful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to get set up with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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