I have adult ADHD, so trust me. I know the focus struggle can be real. But seriously, you need to put down your phone. That’s the first step. Then you need to hone in on your partner. Don’t look around, play with the dog, half-watch TV, fidget, or act othewise distracted or disinterested. Let your partner know you’re there, you’re present, you’re tuned in, and you’re really interested in what they have to say.
2. Don’t Interrupt
It’s disrespectful to interrupt, even if the matter is pressing, and you feel like what you have to say is the most important thing anyone has ever said in the history of human communication. Well, I suppose if your partner’s head is on fire, or there’s a zombie sneaking up behind, you can interrupt, but otherwise, let them speak. And make sure they offer you the same respect.
3. Acknowledge That You’re Listening
Those head nods, and those words like “yep” or “right” aren’t interrupting, they’re just acknowledging that you’re listening and you’re invested in the conversation. They help your partner know you’re invested in what they’re saying instead of lost in your own thoughts, wishing they would shut up. Ask questions when appropriate, to show interest and understanding.
4. Actually Pay Attention
This is harder than it seems, especially if you have a short attention span like me. It might take some discipline, but don’t wander off, mentally, when your partner is talking. Even if it’s something you’ve heard a million times before, take in what they’re saying and don’t zone out. This is the person you love, and they deserve for you to be present and attentive when they speak to you.
5. Show Empathy
This one can be tricky, but it involves putting yourself in your partner’s shoes. This is especially important if you are having a disagreement. Even if you disagree, you can try to see things from your partner’s perspective, or at least understand why they might feel the way they feel. This isn’t the same as agreeing with them. It’s more like being open to ideas other than your own.
6. Watch Your Body Language
When your partner is speaking, you can be actively listening and still communicating negatively without even opening your mouth. Watch for eye rolls, tensing up of your body, crossing your arms, and shaking your head. Never walk away unless you need a minute to cool off or think. Being aware of your body language is one of the most important parts of active listening.