How You And Your Partner Can Listen To Each Other Better

A sign of a truly thriving relationship is when two people actually LISTEN to each other.

Love & Relationships

Any time an engaged couple asks me what they could proactively stand to work on, as intently as possible, learning how to really listen to each other always comes up in the top five. I can't tell you how many miscommunications, knock-out-drag-outs and shoot, even a lack of emotional connecting can be avoided if two people simply purposed in their mind to get still, put a pause on potential distractions and really just listen to one another.

That's what we're going to touch on today. Whether you've been seeing someone for two months or 10 years, you can always improve the quality of your dynamic by making sure to listen to your partner as you encourage him to do the same.

Wait Until You Are Ready to Actually Listen


A number one cause of breakdowns in marriages is poor communication. And what's one of the biggest causes of poor communication? People who don't know how to listen. Listening is a heck of a lot more than just hearing someone. One definition of listen is "to pay attention". Another that I also really like is "to wait attentively for a sound".

If you're not prepared to give your partner your undivided attention and be patient as they are trying to articulate and express their thoughts, then you're not ready to fully listen to what they have to say.

Keeping these points in mind, one of the best ways to start listening better to your partner is to wait until you know when you will actually…listen to them. This is especially the case if they want to have a serious conversation with you.

And what if, for whatever the reason, you aren't exactly ready to listen? There is no need to be short, patronizing or rude. Simply think of when you know you can be more attentive; when you will be willing to do your best to understand what needs to be conveyed. A time when there are not as many distractions, you are not mentally preoccupied with lots of other things, and your energy is in a place that won't put them on the defensive (more on that in a moment). Try and figure out a time within 48 hours of their request. Trust me, the more open you are to listening (as they are to you), the much smoother your conversations will be able to go.

Practice the Golden Rule


Sometimes, when I'm in counseling sessions, I'll look at one of the spouses and be like, "Wow. No wonder your partner is almost out of the door." Their body language is foul. They are constantly talking over me and their spouse. All they really care about is how they feel about a certain person, place, thing or idea. Compromising is never really on the table. Coming to a place of peace, for both parties, is something they couldn't care less about. Oh, but when it's time for their needs to be addressed, all of what I just said goes completely out of the window. Suddenly, their spouse is to be totally different than they just were to them. You know what this kind of person is called, right? Yep. A HYPOCRITE. Pretty much all of us are familiar with the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When it comes to really and truly listening to your partner, is this a courtesy that you honestly can say that you extend to him? (Be honest now.)

Count to 5 (or 10) Before Responding


Oftentimes, whenever people read a tip like this one, they think it only applies to when they are pissed off or irritated. While it is a good idea to count to five or 10 when you feel that way (although what's actually better is to refer back to the first tip that I mentioned), I think that internally counting should be a practice in all conversations. I'm sure you've heard before that lots of people are more focused on getting out what they want to say next instead of hearing what someone is already saying. Well, this is definitely the cause of why a lot of couples don't feel heard—and therefore, respected—in their relationship.

The reality is, if all you care about is what you want and need to say, all this means is you simply want to get off a monologue with your partner serving as your audience. Not only is that counterproductive in communication but, real talk, it's pretty arrogant and insensitive too. Whether you feel triggered, whether you totally disagree with them, or even if it's that you simply have lots to say in response to what is being said, still take a moment to count, process and think about what the appropriate response should be.

Good communication is not a race to the finish. It's a tool that helps both people feel like some resolve has been obtained.

Get Off of the Defensive


Whew. I don't know if anything is more exhausting than someone who is defensive all of the time. I actually had to end a coaching relationship with a married couple because the wife was this kind of person. What's interesting about these types of folks is, they typically have so many walls up, that when you call them out on their stuff, they're so busy trying to defend themselves that they can't even see where you are coming from. So, what are some signs that point to how a defensive individual acts?

  • They take everything personally
  • They have no idea how to see the humor in things or how to laugh at themselves
  • If it's not their way, it's wrong
  • They're not happy unless they get the last word
  • No matter how minor a topic of conversation might be, they want to "prove" their side of it
  • They feel like their partner should apologize, even when they really didn't do anything wrong
  • They can hold grudges for days

Didn't you get exhausted, just by reading this? That's because defensive people are UTTERLY EXHAUSTING. So much in fact that, if the defensive person doesn't pull back some, their partner may stop opening up and/or fully listening to them altogether. And when a relationship gets to this point and place, there's nowhere good that it can actually go. At least, not until the defensiveness and some real healing (from the wounds that come from dealing with a defensive individual) transpires. Defensive folks don't listen and oftentimes aren't really heard either. Do your very best to not be this kind of person.

Get Clarity in Question Form


If you truly want a discussion (especially if you sense that it is headed towards a disagreement) to be effective, something that I've found to be super-effective, both on the giving and receiving end, is presenting things in question form. Not only can it help both people to not get defensive but, when you ask a question, it mentally and emotionally positions you to wait for an answer. Plus, it oftentimes makes the person you're directing your question to feel more comfortable opening up and providing even more information about where they're coming from and how they're feeling.

Bottom line, a surefire sign of a good listener is someone who tries to gain as much clarity as possible, so that the conversation ends up being productive rather than 1) a waste of time or 2) something that made matters worse rather than better. If you're not used to communicating with questions, try it. So long as the approach is sincere and non-condescending (which is another Ted Talk for another time), it can make for a much smoother exchange between you and your partner.

Make Finding Resolution More Important than Being Right


A wise person once said, "Immature people always want to win an argument, even at the cost of the relationship." (Check out "How To Deal With A Partner Who's NEVER Wrong") In striving to listen to your partner better, it's important to always—and I do mean, always—ask yourself if you care more about being right or respecting them by validating their feelings and views. Another question to ponder is, when there is conflict, is working together to find a resolution your top priority?

I'm pretty sure you've heard the quote by author Stephen Covey that says, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood", but did you know that is only a part of it? The ending is, "Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say." Understanding someone is about comprehending what they are saying and, (what I really like) grasping why their thoughts are so significant to them. If you're someone who makes understanding a part of listening, I promise you that, not only will your partner feel respected (which is huge), they will want to share more with you. And, at the end of the day, that is what emotional safety and intimacy are truly all about.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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