Listen to understand your partner

January 5, 2024

BY April Lincoln, LCSW, MAC, SAP, CEAP

"The way couples begin a discussion about a problem—how you present an issue and how your partner responds to you—is absolutely critical." - Dr. John Gottman.


Let's be honest; arguing in any relationship is not fun, and most people want to avoid an argument and will take any step possible not to discuss the problems that arise.

Avoiding a dispute is unhealthy and can lead to unmet needs and resentment.  Research shows that healthy arguing in a relationship can strengthen your relationship.

One component of a healthy argument is listening to your partner to understand them, not listening to defend yourself. 

The biggest complaint I hear from many individuals is that they feel ignored.   Listening to your partner is a critical component to resolving any disagreement.  Listening is not just about hearing; listening is about giving your undivided attention to understand better the information your partner conveys.

Listening to our partner is a crucial skill for effective communication.  It should not be done just during conflict; it should be practiced during all conversation areas with our loved ones.  This skill is vital in resolving the issue and bringing growth and change to a relationship. 

The purpose of listening to understand is to focus on the message your partner is attempting to convey to understand their point of view better.  Both partners need to practice listening to understand skills for good listening to be effective.  When faced with a disagreement, we often go into defense mode and focus on responding to our partner's request by stating our position.

This type of reaction focuses on complaints rather than finding a solution.  When listening to your partner, you must try to see it from your partner's point of view.  Try to see it from their perspective.  Try to see it through their eyes to understand their world better. 

Try to listen to your partner's emotions.  It's easy to let our emotions get in the way, and then the situation becomes about what we feel, not what our partner is feeling.  If we can understand our partner's emotions, it will help us to be better at adjusting our response to them.  If we focus on our own emotions, we respond based on our feelings and not theirs, which can cause your partner to become upset and feel misunderstood. 

Listen without judgment and bias.   This does not mean you have to agree with your partner; you are trying to understand your partner's perspective better.  Remember, the key here is that you are listening to learn. 

Show interest in what your partner is saying by Asking questions.  Asking questions also assists in gaining a better understanding of what our partner is experiencing.  When asking questions, it's important to use open-ended questions.  Use questions such as What about this situation makes you feel the way you do?  Is there another time you felt this way?  What did you mean when you said….? How did you perceive what I did?  Etc…

Open-ended questions will give you a more in-depth answer versus an answer you would receive with a yes-no question with closed-ended questions.

These are a few tips to help you become a listener and improve communication within your relationship.  If you find that you are having difficulties in any areas of your relationship, feel free to reach out to April Lincoln, LCSW, a level 2 Gottman trained therapist, to schedule an appointment