Active Listening Skills in Relationships: 5 Exercises to Do With Your Partner

Do you want to restore a sense of intimacy and trust in your relationship? Active listening is the best way to help each other feel heard and build the emotional connection that only flourishes with positive communication. 

Please don’t be like many folks who think that some people are naturally better conversationalists than others. Like any skill, you can improve your communication. Here are seven exercises to do with a partner to enhance your active listening skills in relationships and cement your bond. 

1. Draw a Picture 

Many, but not all, of the ideas on this list draw inspiration from popular games. It makes sense — people have invented entertaining competitions to hone their skills since the first primitive human noticed that practice makes perfect. 

You might not have ever realized it, but you use active listening skills when you play Pictionary. Put a spin on the classic by asking your partner to tell you about their day — and drawing a picture of what they describe. 

“Wait a second,” you might protest. “I’m not an artist, and a 5-year-old can do a better drawing than me.” Cracking each other up is all part of the fun — and research indicates that laughter increases positive feelings between two people. 

2. Judge Not 

Your partner promises to text you when they get home, but hours pass and your phone stays dark. Do you assume that they got busy with other things or that cellular data interruptions kept their text from sending even though they hit the button? Or does your mind automatically create a negative narrative like, “They don’t even care enough to send a 5-second message?” 

You might not be able to stop yourself from jumping to conclusions without time and decades of therapy to retrain your brain to think more positively. However, you can decide to ignore your automatic reaction and take time to think about every possibility.

The next time you find yourself assuming something about your partner’s motivations, brainstorm as many alternative explanations for their behavior as you can, other than, “they just don’t care.” Turn it into a game — when you later ask why they forgot to text, you can see if any of your alternative answers came close.  

3. Shift Positions 

Money and infidelity might be the top causes of divorce, but other factors also contribute. Perhaps surprisingly, your political ideology can influence your relationship with your partner. Fully 70% of partners belong to the same party, with only 30% having mixed relationships. 

Some issues you do need to take a firm line — ideologies that deny your essential humanity deserve condemnation. However, while you shouldn’t stand for misogyny or racism in your relationship, you can sometimes agree to disagree by looking at issues from the opposing side of view. 

Imagine that you are an attorney who has to present the case from the opposing point of view. You can borrow your partner’s talking points, although you might discover a few as you explore this new way of thinking. 

4. Play 20 Questions

In traditional 20 questions, you try to guess the identity of a mystery object by making inquiries. In this activity, you probe to discover more about topics that matter to your partner. 

Choose a topic about which your partner has a passionate interest, but you know little. It could be the ins and outs of what they do on the job site all day or the finer rules of football. Start with one question, and then challenge yourself to ask at least five follow-ups based on what they say. You need to pay attention — you’ll be learning as you go. 

5. Spot the Change

Maybe you remember the telephone game from your school days where you whisper a secret to your partner, they pass it on to the next person and so on down the line. If you play with a class of 20, the final message often becomes quite different from the original phrase. 

In this couples variation, you relay a short anecdote, possibly about your day. Then, you repeat it but change one critical detail. The goal is to see if your partner can pick up on the change, so make it challenging. 

Do These 5 Exercises to Practice Active Listening Skills in Relationships

Positive communication skills can enrich nearly any partnership, but it takes practice to improve, like any skill. Please do these five exercises to enhance active listening in your relationships and strengthen your bond with the one you love most.