Clear, effective communication is absolutely vital for healthy relationships. Of course, this kind of communication takes time and patience to learn. If you’re looking for “tips to be a better listener to my boyfriend”, then read on! We have 10 suggestions on how you can improve your listening abilities.
1. Learn to Recognize When He Feels Like Talking
It’s often difficult for guys to open up and talk about their feelings. In fact, most of them prefer to clam up and redirect their emotions into things like exercise or video games rather than sitting down and discussing them. Many of them have been raised with the idea that they need to ignore or avoid talking about their feelings because that’s “unmanly”. As you can imagine, this isn’t great for their long-term mental health, nor for maintaining healthy relationships.
When a guy wants to talk to his partner about something that’s bothering him, he’ll often have certain “tells”. Just like in poker or other game, he might show certain tics or say certain phrases that can cue you into the fact that something’s a bit off.
2. Give Him Your Full Attention
Most of us have developed a tendency to multitask at all times. How often do you find yourself doing several things at once instead of giving one thing your complete attention?
When it comes to listening to your boyfriend, make sure you stop everything else you’re doing. Turn off the TV or music. Put down your phone—or even toss it into another room so you aren’t distracted by notifications. Let everything else just disappear for a while so you can give him all of your attention.
This will make him feel like he’s a priority to you, and that you’re truly listening to what he has to say. It’s also helpful for you because you’ll be able to focus entirely on him. When we divide our attention, we can miss vital pieces of information. He won’t feel disrespected by your divided focus, and you won’t need to ask him to repeat himself because you didn’t catch what he was saying.
3. Be Honest About Your Own Emotional Bandwidth
Your guy might decide that he wants to talk about something that’s bothering him. That’s great, especially if he’s been hesitant to communicate in the past, but not so great if you’re exhausted or feeling depleted. If he wants to talk after you’ve had the worst day ever at work, or you’re doubled over with period cramps, then explain that to him.
Let him know that you really appreciate that he wants to discuss this, and that it’s important to you too. Then tell him that you don’t feel as though you have enough energy to be able to properly honor this conversation right now. Explain that you want to be able to listen to him and support him—you just need to refill your own well first. He’ll appreciate that kind of honesty. Furthermore, you’ll likely have a much better exchange later as opposed to nodding off mid conversation.
Schedule a specific time for the two of you to talk, and completely clear your schedule to make that happen.
4. Really Listen: Don’t Just Wait for Your Turn to Speak
One of the most difficult techniques to master is that of active listening. This involves paying attention to everything the person is saying; verbally and otherwise. We communicate a great deal through our body language. As a result, people who have a difficult time expressing themselves verbally might offer additional cues through posture, gestures, etc.
That said, a lot of this information can be lost if we’re not paying active attention. Most people are instantly reactive to situations rather than responsive. The difference between reaction and response is that the former is knee-jerk and instant. In contrast, a response is measured, and takes time to sort out.
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A lot of people hear someone say something and instantly know what they want to say in return. As a result, they don’t actually hear the rest of what the other person is saying. They’re so focused on formulating their own retort that they miss vital pieces of information that are given to them.
Try to avoid doing this. Instead, really listen to everything he has to say. Then take time to think about it all, and determine what the best response could be. You could even tell him that you need to take a walk or have a cup of tea so you can process all that information. He’ll appreciate that kind of honesty, and the time you’re spending on your reply.
5. Reflect Back So He Knows He’s Being Heard
This can be something as simple as repeating back something he’s said and then asking for clarification that you’ve understood correctly. For example, let’s say that he’s expressed frustrating about not having enough time to himself. You can respond back with something like:
“What I’m hearing from you is that you aren’t getting enough alone time, and it’s making you feel resentful. Am I understanding that right?”
At this point, he can either confirm that you got it, or clarify that he meant something a little bit differently.
This technique has two great effects: it lets him know that he’s being heard, and avoids the possibility of misunderstandings as the conversation continues.
6. Try to Avoid Getting Defensive
Many people get defensive and take things personally when personality conflicts arise. Let’s expand upon the previous example with the boyfriend saying that he isn’t getting enough alone time.
A person who has a tendency to be defensive and insecure might turn that around and ask, “What, you don’t like spending time with me anymore?” or “What are you doing that you need alone time for? Are you talking to other women behind my back?” or similar.
In reality, he might feel overwhelmed by having to process information and emote too much, and just wants more time in silence and solitude. Maybe he’s an introvert and needs a lot of alone time to recharge, which he isn’t getting. Alternatively, he might just feel overwhelmed by demands on his time from work, school, the relationship, family responsibilities, etc. and just wants more time to pursue his own interests.
Recognize where these issues are stemming from so you can understand how to work through them as a couple.
7. Ask Questions, but Don’t be Pushy
It’s okay to ask a few questions about the subject(s) he’s talking about. That said, he’ll likely get uncomfortable if you try to push him to share too much. Let him lead the conversation instead of getting interrogative about it.
For example, let’s say that he’s expressing to you that he wants you to initiate intimacy more often. You can respond by asking him what approach he’d prefer you to take. This will allow the conversation to unfold organically and comfortably.
In contrast, asking him all kinds of questions about how his past girlfriends were in this regard isn’t a great idea.
8. Don’t Make This About You
Many people share their own experiences during these kinds of discussions, believing that they’ll be helpful. For example, let’s say he’s telling you that he’s been feeling really depressed. If you’ve experienced depression in the past, you might be tempted to tell him about how you felt during your depression.
In your mind, you’re trying to express to him that you’ve gone through this too, and can relate to how he’s feeling. To him, in that moment, it’ll feel like you’re trying to talk about your own past issues rather than listening to what he has to say. Even though what you said came with the best of intentions, it’ll likely have the complete opposite effect.
If you feel that you have some insights as to how he can deal with things, then ask him if he’s open to hearing about them. He might say yes, and then you can explain how you felt during your low period. Alternatively, he might say that the circumstances were completely different and aren’t comparable. And that’s absolutely okay. Respect his perspective and preferences either way.
9. Never Invalidate His Emotions
One of the worst things you could do is to respond to your boyfriend opening up by telling him that he’s overreacting or being a baby. It’s incredibly difficult for most guys to show vulnerability at all. Your guy has taken a huge step in telling you about something that’s upsetting him.
Do you know what will happen if you laugh at him or brush it off as ridiculous? You can be sure he won’t make that kind of mistake again.
If he feels safe enough with you to tell you about something that’s hurting him and you laugh or call him a pussy, he’s going to clam up really quickly. Depending on how you react, he might even break up with you completely. Guys rarely allow themselves to be vulnerable, and the wrong response can either make or break a relationship. His feelings are as valid and important as yours, and should be supported and respected accordingly.
Ask yourself how you would like to be treated when you express how you’re feeling, and how you’d react if someone gaslit you or made you feel small by doing so.
10. Ask Him How You can Support Him
This expands upon the previous tip as well. The whole “treat others as you’d like to be treated” adage can be a bit tricky. It’s especially nebulous when dealing with people of the opposite sex, or very different personality types.
We’re all different when it comes to the kind of support we prefer from our partners. Some of us like hugs and sympathy, others like advice on what actions to take to fix things. If you don’t know which type he is, or how you can best hold space for him and support him, then ask.
The best way to do this is to be upfront about it. Something like, “please let me know how I can best support you through this right now” is perfect. If he seems confused, then be honest about why you’re saying that. You can let him know that you like comfort and sympathy by way of ice cream and favorite movies, but you’re not sure what would help him feel better.
It might not have even occurred to him that your love languages and supportive needs are completely different. As a result, he’ll appreciate you wanting to know more about him, especially in an effort to be loving and helpful.
After reading these “tips to be a better listener to my boyfriend”, you probably have a good idea of where to start. They’re suggestions that can work in pretty much any relationship, as they can be adapted to every individual. You can also use them as a foundation or jumping-off point.
Make sure to check in with him regularly about whether he’s doing okay. Ask if there’s anything on his mind that he’d like to discuss, and let him know that you’re here for him. If he says he doesn’t feel like talking, don’t push him. Give him the space to approach you on his terms, and you’ll find him opening up to you more and more often.