Listening is a crucial part of relating. Each of us wants to be heard when we speak, so it is important to know how to truly listen to a partner.

Listening is much more than passively being silent while your partner is talking. Listening is an active skill, and, like all skills, it can be developed and refined. To actively listen, you temporarily silence inner thoughts and direct your attention outward – to your partner. Your intention is to truly hear and understand your partner’s experience, whatever it is.

An attentive listener can acknowledge, validate, support, and encourage a speaker. However, many of us automatically interpret what others say. The card LISTENING warns you to beware of making your own interpretations. In listening, you want to understand the other person’s meaning. It’s always better to question them about what they mean by something than to assume that you know. Never assume anything!

An active listener tries to find something true in whatever the other person says. Such a listener may disagree with what is said, but can still acknowledge that it’s true for the speaker. The card LISTENING suggests that you seek to understand what is true for your partner – from their point of view – in whatever they are saying.

It may be useful to reflect on your upbringing for a brief moment. In what way did it influence your listening habits? Did you learn to truly listen? Most of us didn’t. Many of us appear to be listening, but are actually rehearsing what we will say next instead of hearing our partner. Some of us frequently interrupt our partner to disagree and give our own opinions. There are also those of us who, uncomfortable with what we are hearing, jump in to rescue the other person or try to solve their problems.

Sometimes it is difficult to listen to our partner if we hear intense hurt, fear, or anger coming out. It may be hard not to take what they say personally, especially if it seems directed at us. It is important to remember that when someone feels a strong emotion, it is not subject to reason. At such times, trying to engage in rational discussion or correcting them is as foolhardy as taking their statements personally.

When a partner expresses strong feelings, we often try to make them feel better or convince them not to feel that way. We may react strongly to defend ourselves if they seem to be blaming us. But trying to fix their feelings or defend ourselves is doomed to lead to further upset.

The best response is simply to listen. Most of the time, no other action is required. You don’t have to fix the situation, defend yourself, or make your partner feel better. Just listen to your partner without taking anything personally. Simply let go, breathe, open your ears – and hear whatever they say. And keep breathing.

To listen attentively is one of the most powerful, effective, and constructive responses you can offer to another person. It is far more effective than trying to solve someone’s problem or change how they feel. It is certainly better than attempting to defend yourself. In fact, listening is a rare gift. When you give it to your partner, you give it to your relationship.