Active listening

Active listening is an important skill for relationship building. It is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated.

To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what they are saying – by mirroring,  paraphrasing, clarifying and giving feedback.

Use active listening in emotional conversations, or when what you are discussing is difficult to understand.  Not every conversation needs active listening.


Active Listening is a form of listening and reflecting back what you’ve heard that can deepen the bond, the trust, the understanding and the mutual respect in relationships.

Reflecting back what you’ve heard uncovers misunderstandings earlier. The listener reflects back by paraphrasing in their own words what they think they’ve understood and then gives the other person a chance to clarify or further explain; “Ok so what I think I understand is that what happened was …., then this happened ….., and now you’re feeling …. and what you now need is  ….  Does that sound right?”

Active listening slows down the communication.  This helps people to feel more safe and secure; it lowers their stress levels.  People can only really share when they feel safe and secure.  The slower and more deliberate dialog is especially important in emotional conversations where people may need more time to process their thoughts and feelings, and want to make sure they are understood.

“There’s a lot of difference
between listening and hearing.” 

― G. K. Chesterton

Whenever your spouse says something important to you, you should state in your own words what you understood from their words.  You may uncover much more than what your spouse’s first words – deeper aspects to the issue.

Some possible lead-ins (tone matters!)

  • “What I hear you saying is that …”
  • “In other words ….?”
  • “Let me get this straight…”
  • “So you felt that …”
  • “If I understand you correctly…”
  • “Do you mean…?”
  • “Would you say that ….?”
  • “…Did I get that right?”
Often when you paraphrase, you will find that you were wrong,  or missing some important aspects.  You should then ask questions to clarify. Asking questions will give you a broader picture that includes more specific details, finer nuances of feelings, and greater understanding of your spouse’s point of view. In phrasing your questions, remember your intention is to understand, enjoy, learn or help – not to interrogate, pressure for your own point of view, blame, belittle or manipulate in any way. Ask questions (tone matters!) Ask for the facts
  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • How
Ask for their feelings and thoughts
  • How did you feel about that?
  • What were you thinking then?

After you fully understand what the other has said, you can ‘feed back’ your own reactions.

You calmly relate – without judgment – your own thoughts, feelings, opinions, desires, etc. You share your inner experience of your spouse’s account.

Benefits of Feedback

  1. It is another opportunity to check out your understanding of their words; they can correct any misconceptions.
  2. Your feedback provides your spouse with information  about the accuracy and effects of their communication.
  3. Your spouse gets the benefit of your fresh point of view.

Good feedback is:

  • Immediate – as soon as you feel you have clarity on what was said.
  • Honest – your real reaction, undistorted by fears of offending, desires to manipulate, or unwillingness to reveal your own feelings.
  • Supportive – find supportive ways to give negative opinions.
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