How to Listen to Your Partner: 4 Strategies for Tuning In

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eight Dates" by John Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman, et al.. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Why is active listening crucial in a relationship? How can you better listen to your partner on important matters?

No matter what stage of the relationship you’re in, you should always try to get to know your partner. Eight Dates emphasizes that listening strengthens the bond between you and your partner and can help minimize conflict in the future.

Here are ways you can learn how to listen to your partner effectively.

Listen With Curiosity

Make sure you use date time to learn more about your partner. The authors argue that learning more about your partner will depend on you knowing how to listen to your partner. The goal of listening should be to better understand the other person.

The Three Levels of Listening

The goal of listening is to learn more about your partner. In Co-Active Coaching, the authors outline three levels of listening, the last of which is the most effective in promoting understanding and emotional intimacy.

The first level of listening is internal listening. At this level, the listener is focused on their own thoughts and feelings. They aren’t fully present or engaged with the speaker and may be distracted or preoccupied.

The second level of listening is focused listening. At this level, the listener is fully present and engaged with the speaker. They’re actively listening, paying attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues, and asking questions for clarification.

The third, and most effective level of listening, is global listening. At this level, the listener is fully present and engaged with the speaker on multiple levels. They aren’t only listening to the words being spoken but also to the emotions, values, and intentions behind them. 

Here are four strategies you can use to make sure you’re listening to learn:

1. Pay attention. First, put away your phone and other distractions. Stay present in the conversation. Then fully listen to what your partner is saying without judgment. (Shortform note: Paying attention might require more than just putting your cell phone away. Research suggests just having your cell phone visible can reduce the quality of your social interactions even if you never touch it. The presence of a cell phone in the room can inhibit the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and reduce feelings of empathy between conversational partners. So if you want to really pay attention, consider putting your cell phone out of sight in a bag or another room.)

2. Remain curious. If you don’t understand something, ask more questions. (Shortform note: As you’re asking follow-up questions, focus on open-ended questions that don’t have a simple yes or no answer. Open-ended questions begin with phrases like “How did it feel when…” or “Tell me more about…” These types of questions prompt the person to share more information, thoughts, and feelings and will lead to richer and more nuanced conversations.)

3. Reflect back what you hear your partner say. Repeating back what you hear lets your partner know that you understood them correctly. (Shortform note: This strategy, known as reflective listening, has two purposes. First, it allows you, as the listener, to clarify and restate what someone is saying to make sure you understood correctly. Second, it allows the speaker to address any misunderstanding and miscommunication and to add on to what they said if necessary.)

4. Stay connected. If the conversation gets tense or challenging, find other ways to connect. Express empathy for your partner’s experience and stay connected with physical touch.

(Shortform note: Researchers have found that showing physical affection during conflict can help couples manage disagreements more effectively because it reduces stress, increases empathy, and makes partners feel closer. In one study, couples who held hands during a tense discussion not only reported feeling less stress during the conversation, but they also engaged in more constructive conflict behaviors. However, for couples struggling with serious ongoing issues, physical touch can also be interpreted negatively, particularly if it’s seen as a tool of control or manipulation.)

How to Listen to Your Partner: 4 Strategies for Tuning In

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of John Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman, et al.'s "Eight Dates" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Eight Dates summary:

  • The secret to a strong, long-lasting relationship
  • Why you and your partner need to make time for weekly dates
  • The eight powerful dates and conversations to have at the start of a relationship

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.