5 benefits of active listening in couples therapy

Dec 22, 2020

Therapist doing online therapy Telehealth

Participating in couples therapy can be an effective way to strengthen your relationship with your partner. With solution focused couples therapy, the focus is on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problems that led the couple to seek therapy. Because, as a couple, you will be going over any issues and then working towards the goal of solving those specific issues, active listening can come in handy as a communication technique. But what is active listening in couples therapy and what are the benefits of active listening?

What is active listening?

Active listening is a communication technique often used in couples therapy to promote better communication between two people. When active listening is practiced, the listener is focused completely on the speaker and actively working to hear, understand, and retain the information that’s being shared. It ensures that the listener is engaged in listening and not distracted or trying to figure out what they want to say in response when the speaker is done talking. It’s a well known and helpful communication tool that can be used in relationships, but also in other types of situations such as workplaces.

Reduces heightened emotions

During active listening, one person is genuinely committed to listening and absorbing the information. At the same time, the other is able to speak freely and say everything they want to say without being interrupted. Engaging in a quick back and forth conversation can result in interruptions and heated commentary. With active listening, the dialogue is able to slow down and space is held while the speaker focuses on speaking, and the listener focuses on what the speaker has to say while giving signals that they are truly hearing every word.

Avoids misunderstandings

Because the speaker is able to fully express themselves without fear of being judged or interrupted, there is less chance for misunderstandings that often happen when couples are communicating. Misunderstandings can often occur when one person is talking, hasn’t fully finished their thought process or what they wanted to say, and the other person is already ready with a response or rebuttal. If the active listener is truly doing their job, they are not on the edge of their seat waiting to respond. Instead, they are leaning into the speaker, giving physical cues that they are listening and understanding what they’re saying, and allowing the speaker to decide when they are done.

Ensures the speaker feels heard

During active listening, the listener is fully engaged in what the speaker is saying. They are giving physical and verbal indications that they are truly listening and hearing what is being said. In some cases, giving feedback, or a summary, of what they heard (without an opinion or jumping to defend themselves) can further assure the speaker that the listener has heard them clearly. This can help the person speaking to feel like they have been heard and understood.

Ensures the listener is actually listening

It’s common to be in a conversation with someone and have them not hear a word you said. It’s not a good place to be in, but with how busy and distracted most of us are on a day to day basis, it’s not a surprise. However, when you’re in solution-focused couples therapy, this isn’t helpful. By practicing active listening, the listener puts effort into making sure that they’re truly listening to their partner. This means that they can absorb, understand, and retain what their partner is saying and really begin to connect with them in a way that most partners aren’t doing regularly which leads to poor communication.

Teaches a skill that can be used outside of therapy

Although active listening is a popular technique that is used in couples therapy, it’s something that can be practiced at home as well. Couples who find that they are having communication issues can utilize active listening that they have learned in couples therapy to work through problems and will find that the more they use this technique, the better they will be able to communicate with their partner moving forward.

Filippo M. Forni, LMFT is a sex and couples therapist in Los Angeles, CA. His goal is to provide high-quality and effective goal-oriented sex and couples psychotherapy to the Los Angeles and Century City community. He has extensive training in sexuality and multiculturalism and serves as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.