When you notice conflict getting heated, deliberately slow things down by making an effort to genuinely listen to each other. Active listening skills are a powerful (and deceptively simple) way for couples to  turn down the emotional volume of an argument.

When it’s your turn to listen, resist acting on any urges to interrupt, defend yourself or blame the other person. Instead of planning what you’ll say next, try to simply listen. You might need to keep reminding yourself to do this repeatedly as your partner speaks!

Active listening skills can involve doing things like paraphrasing, summarising or asking open ended questions. But actually, we’d suggest just sticking with non-verbal ways of showing you’re listening. Not only is this a simpler way to listen, it is also less likely to leave your partner feeling like you’re hijacking the conversation.

Non-verbal active listening skills can include things like:

  • Nodding your head
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Not doing anything else at the same time (like looking at your phone)
  • Staying reasonably still (so you don’t appear distracted or restless)
  • Leaning forward
  • Smiling

When we are in defensive-mode, our thinking becomes biased. It can feel like you and your partner don’t agree on anything. To counter this tendency, keep an ear out for the parts of your partner’s point of view that make sense to you or that you empathise with.

After actively listening to each other like this, what do you notice about the emotional intensity of the conflict?

When you listen like this, what feels hardest? Not interrupting, not blaming the other person, resisting the urge to think about what you’ll say next?

What’s it like for you when your partner listens to you in this way?

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear”. ~ Ram Dass

Find more detailed tips on communicating better as a couple during conflict or learn more about couples counselling.