Keeping the Spark alive – The art of listening part 1


Ever wonder what are the magic ingredients to a happy marriage? It is sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly what is required to make a relationship work. There are so many different factors involved – personality type, individual needs and expectations, having a positive outlook, to name but a few.

But after thirty years of working with couples, I have found that certain aspects and skills are key. If two people can cultivate these skills, they are well on the way to enjoying a partnership that happy, healthy and balanced.

To start, let’s look at the power of effective listening.


We are all guilty of poor listening at times,  writes Barbara Duff

Do you ever feel that your partner does not really listen to you? Well, don’t worry – you are not alone. And chances are that at times your partner feels the very same.

For most of us, the art of true listening is a real challenge. Yet, good, attentive listening is a vital ingredient in a healthy relationship.

That is why it is crucial to focus on this very important area. You may want to feel that your partner listens to you, but are you a good listener? If you can master the art of true listening, your partner can learn from you.

How do you become a good listener? Read on and find out.

To truly listen to the other person requires real concentration and focus.  Your ability to listen attentively can depend on your perception of what is being said. Good listening also demands a receptive mind open to receive whatever message is being given.

Feeling unheard

What is it like for you to feel unheard? The couples I have worked with report a wide range of experiences –

  • I feel worthless, as if I’m not even worth listening to
  • I feel really frustrated – no matter what I say, I can’t get the message across
  •  After a while I become withdrawn; I think my partner is not interested in me
  • Eventually, I become really angry

what do you experience when you feel unheard?

Getting the message across

“How can I get my partner to listen to me?” – this is a common plea. The frustration of being ignored can build up into feelings of anger and rejection.

For you to operate effectively as a couple, each needs to feel listened to. Each of you needs to feel that your message has been heard by the other.

A good start is to assess yourself as a listener. Do you only half listen? Some of the pitfalls mentioned below ring true for most people.

Pitfalls of poor listening and how to avoid them

  • Switching off once, you think you are going to hear a complaint.
    • Maybe the message should not be dismissed. Give your partner a chance.
  • Interrupting your partner to make a correction to the story.
    • Hold it – your chance will come later.
  • Filtering out negative messages – a common self-protection device.
    • Stay calm and listen.
  • Preparing your defence while your partner is speaking – this shows that you are thinking of yourself.
    • Try to think more of your partner.
  • Failing to pick up your partner’s feelings of hurt, frustration or anger.
    • Focus on the feelings behind your partner’s words. Watch the body language.
  • Dismissing the message even before you have heard it.
    • Try opening your mind before you close it.

We are all guilty of poor listening at times. Yet we all want to be heard.

To be a good listener

You are probably quite a good listener already. But read the guidelines below and see if there are any pointers that could be helpful.

  • Clear your mind of distractions; put aside any negative thoughts such as irritation or anger
  • Look at your partner when he/she is speaking
  •  Watch out for signs of distress or frustration in your partner
  • Try to focus only on what is being said, not on your reply
  • Keep an open mind, even if you don’t like what you hear
  • Try to empathise with what your partner is saying

So, what do you need to change to make you a better listener? How about your partner? Once you have each decided, see if you can put these changes into practice. It will take time and patience but the results will make it all worthwhile.

Barbara Duff is a relationship and psychosexual counsellor with over 20 years’ experience. This is an edited extract from her book Rekindle the Spark – 10 steps to revitalise your relationship. Published by Orpen Press ISBN 9781786050380. Also available on Amazon.