Strengthen Your Relationship: Learn to Listen

For couples looking to strengthen or repair their relationship, the Gottman Institute offers a multi-step method that begins with the foundation of building a “love map” for your partner. Your love map shows how well you know your partner and his or her “inner psychological world…history, worries, stresses, joys, and hopes.” The Gottman Method begins with this as the foundation because building a love map requires you to listen. Learning to listen—and how to listen well—is the beginning of everything.

If you want to be a great partner, here are a few steps you can take to improve your listening skills.

1. Change how you think about listening.
Imagine how your behavior would change if listening to your partner became a treasure hunt. When you ask your partner about his day, are you asking out of habit? Do you let the answer go in one ear and out the other? Or, when your beloved shares things with you, are you looking for the treasure hidden among the mundane? Even in the simple answer to “How was your day?” your loved one is revealing little gems, such as his desires, worries, and hopes.

It is an extreme challenge to always be in active listening mode, but remember, every time you choose autopilot, you are missing an opportunity to find the treasure.

2. Get serious and show you’re serious.
Active listening is, as it sounds, an active choice. If you take a laid-back approach, your partner may feel less and less safe or motivated to share with you her deepest, truest self. We all know how it feels when you’re trying to share something important and your listener seems uninterested or distracted. It hurts.

Show your partner that you are serious about listening to what she shares. The Gottman Institute recommends going so far as creating a written copy of your partner’s love map. As she shares more of herself, make a physical note of it. Then, when opportunity presents itself, use those gems of knowledge about your partner to do special things. Last week when your spouse mentioned she loves daisies, were you listening? Surprise her with daisies when she least expects it. Did you hear the passing comment about your partner’s appreciation for walks by the pond? Initiate these outings to show your beloved that her preferences matter to you.

3. Be childlike with asking questions.
If you have not been a very active listener in the past, your partner may not be in the habit of being very open with his truest self. Getting to the point where your beloved feels safe to share openly may take some time, but the best way to get there is to ask questions and prove that you can be a good listener.

If you need inspiration for what questions you can ask to develop your partner’s love map and get to know your partner on a deeper level, look no further than children. “What’s your favorite color? Who’s your best friend? Why are you doing that?” These simple questions are so commonly heard on the playground, exchanged by children, but they are so valuable. They show that you care, you’re honestly curious, and the details of your partner’s world matter to you.

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