7 Ways to Help Your Partner Become a Better Listener

Jan 06, 2023
blonde woman yelling into a megaphone trying to be heard loud and clear

It's not about being louder.

Clear communication is vital to any relationship. So it’s important to be able to share our thoughts and feelings. We want to be heard. It validates us as human beings.

We all know this to be true.

But what good is sharing if your partner isn’t listening? Not in the way you would like him to.

There is plenty of information about how to be a better listener. You’ve probably read it, practiced it, and applied it to your own relationships.

How, then, can you help your partner be a better listener as well? 

For my sanity’s sake, I wanted to know. Conversations between my husband and I were going nowhere and most of the time, I felt like I was talking to myself.

Reasons why your spouse won’t listen to you.

As I was trying to figure out how to get my husband to “hear” me, I first thought about why he wasn’t listening.

It’s rather subjective, but I came up with these reasons:

  1. He’s too tired or stressed out.
  2. He literally cannot hear me or misunderstood my words.
  3. He’s preoccupied with a task or activity.
  4. He thinks I’m trying to manipulate him. 
  5. He thinks I’m going to criticize him or complain about something. 
  6. He thinks it’s all about me and I’m not considering him.
  7. He wants to avoid conflict.
  8. He thinks I’m too emotional and he hates that.
  9. He’s just not interested in what I am thinking or feeling.
  10. He is unaware that he isn’t listening to me (in the way I need him to).

After looking at the reasons my spouse may not be listening to me, I started coming up with ways to address those reasons. 

Here are 7 things you can do to help your partner be a better listener.

Make sure they can hear you.

I start with this suggestion because it’s so basic but often overlooked. Listening requires you to think about what you hear.

What if the person you are speaking to can‘t actually hear you? There are two things to consider. 

One is literal. Does your spouse/partner have any kind of hearing loss? 

We take for granted the ability of the other person to be able to actually hear our words. Yet even the slightest hearing loss can twist our words. 

And if our speech is rushed, slurred, or distorted by whatever we might be chewing on or talking through, our conversation can go awry. 

This happens frequently when using a cell phone. Surely this has happened to you a time or two.

External noise interferes with our hearing as well. Our world is full of it. The television, video games, social media, barking dogs, playful children, the list goes on. 

To help your partner be a better listener, ensure they can hear you by choosing a time and place where noisy distractions are few and your voice can be heard clearly.

Find the right time

Not to be cliche, but timing is everything when it comes to important conversations.

As mentioned above, it is important to find a time when there are few distractions and you can be in close proximity.

Timing also includes deciding on when or when not to have a discussion with a partner.

For instance, my husband is not a morning person. I know from experience not to talk to him about much of anything until he has been up for a couple of hours. 

The same is true for most people when they first get home from work. We usually need a little decompression time to let go of all the shenanigans the day threw at us. We’re just not in the mood to listen to anyone.

Another bad time to have meaningful conversations is while drinking. While a glass of wine or a cold beer shouldn’t cause too much havoc, it is so easy to let it all out when we’re drunk. 

And you all know what that leads to!

If you want to help your partner be a better listener, pick a time when they are alert, less stressed, and in the best mood to hear you out.

Control yourself

When I get really frustrated, I find it difficult to control my own mood. This shows itself not only in my words, but my tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

It’s a deal breaker if I want my husband, a family member, or even a student to listen to what I have to say. They shut themselves off when I use a certain tone of voice or when I stand with my arms crossed.

Sometimes I just have to wait until I’m more “rational.” I think about what I want to say and intentionally avoid sarcasm, lecturing, raising my voice, and giving the evil eye (usually referred to as glaring).

Be aware of your tone of voice and your own body language. If the person you want to have an honest, open conversation with feels threatened, they will be on the defensive from the get-go.

Listening is the last thing they will do well at this point.

If you want to help your partner be a better listener, check your approach. Wait until you have control over your mood, words, and body language.

Consider their past experiences

Much of our communication as adults is habitual. These habits formed from past experiences. 

Bad or ineffective communication habits begin in childhood. (Doesn’t everything?) As youngsters, we are told what to do, when to do it, and why we need to do it. 

The point comes when we stop “listening.” If you have children, think about how many times you have said, “you aren’t listening to me.” 

Ignoring or half-listening become coping skills.

We also learn to anticipate what is about to be said. This is reinforced as we grow up, attend school, and enter the workforce.

A perfect example of how this affects a person’s ability to be a good listener is my husband, again. (I don’t mean to pick on him, but he has taught me a great deal about how to help others be better listeners!)

Every time I tried to have a meaningful discussion with my husband, he would get agitated. He would cut me off and sometimes actually leave the room. 

 I finally point-blank asked, “Why are you getting so pissed off with me when I’m trying to talk to you?”

His response surprised me. “Because the minute you start talking, I know it’s going to be something you want me to do. It means more work for me.”

Even though what I wanted to talk to him about at that moment was not task-related, that was his first assumption. And his response was to cut me off before I added to his to-do list. 

He was making a judgment about my intentions based on his past experiences. Not just in conversations with me, but with his family and employers. In his mind, we only wanted to talk to him when we needed something.

Knowing this, I often begin conversations by letting him know if it is something I need him to do or if I want his advice, to express a concern I have, or just to share how I’m feeling about something.

If you want to help your partner be a better listener, consider their past experiences in being “talked” to. Let them know what your intentions are for the discussion.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to ask your partner, family member, or colleague to listen to you.

It seems a little awkward, but it is true. 

We are busy people. We face constant distractions and daily challenges. Listening becomes something we mindlessly do while driving home from work (music or podcast). Or while relaxing in the evening (television or YouTube). 

We listen with half an ear. 

If we really want to be heard we may need to say, “I need to talk to you and I want you to listen.” You may have a more tactful way of saying it, but don’t beat around the bush. 

Let the other person know it’s important for you to be heard. Don’t assume they aren’t interested in what you have to say. It’s likely they aren’t even aware they haven’t been “listening” to you. 

So ask to share your thoughts, feelings, ideas. Ask them to listen without interruption. Ask them for input when it’s appropriate. Ask them to listen without judgment.

If you want your partner to be a better listener, let them know you want to be heard and ask them to be a willing and open listener.

Keep it short and to the point

No one wants to drag out a discussion all afternoon no matter how important it is. Our brains and emotions can only take so much. Keep it as short as possible to get your message out.

One way of keeping it short is to get to the point and stay there. Try not to go off on tangents. 

It may be hard to not bring up past issues or get sidetracked by some not-so-related gripe. If necessary, table those things for another time. 

If you want your partner to be a better listener stick to the point. Don’t take too long to say what you want to say or you will lose your audience.

Avoid negativity and generalizations

While it is so important to say what you need to say, it’s vital to avoid making your partner (or another important person) feel crappy.

Saying hurtful things or making accusations during a discussion will either turn it into an argument or a one-sided conversation. Both go nowhere.

On the other hand, if you have a pattern of being negative or making generalizations about your partner during an “I need to talk to you” moment, they may become suspicious if you bring on the charm.

They may think you are trying to manipulate them in some way. Remember, how well they listen depends on their past experiences. 

Be patient if they seem a little apprehensive about your improved communication style. Don’t overdo the sweetness thing. Just stop any name-calling or blame.

If you want to help your partner become a better listener, avoid focusing on only the negative and making degrading generalizations. Be kind, but don’t overdo it.

Some last-minute thoughts about listening.

Some people are naturally good listeners. Others find listening to be boring or frustrating, especially if they are hearing impaired or have short attention spans.

Acknowledge your partner’s ability level when it comes to listening and understanding what you want to say. 

Be aware that your thoughts and feelings may be different about the situation than your spouse’s. You don’t have to be right all the time and neither does he.

So practice what you teach. And watch your relationship and communication improve as you help your partner become a better listener.


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