How to practice listening… A Mindful Listening Exercise for Couples 

While we’re on the subject of listening…

Did you know that the biggest gift you can give to your child is listening to them? Or that the biggest gift you can give to your partner is listening to them? Or for that matter, to anyone else in your life?… Even Oprah says that “The common denominator in the human experience is that we all want to be heard. We all want to know that what we’re saying and feeling matters”.

I spend much of my time listening to people who are hurt or saddened by the experience of not having been listened to themselves. Many feel they have not really been really heard, or really allowed to present themselves and be accepted and not judged for that. I meet with lots of couples who suffer with their partners and feel they can never bring their real feelings into the conversation, because their partners don’t really listen.

So often the people we are trying to talk to are distracted, or eager to fix our feelings, or ready to insert their own experiences. They may not be able to tolerate our feelings and want us to feel differently than we do, so even though they might be trying to help us, they inadvertently respond with advice or lectures or judgments before they have fully heard us. This often has the effect of shutting us down, or making us feel hesitant to bring ourselves to them the next time.

I am often surprised when I’ve had a session with someone and not said too much, but listened deeply, how appreciative they are at the end for my “help” – which has usually been my hearing them out and simply validating their feelings and not offering advice. It’s subtle but it seems that people hold their head a little higher and feel more together after sessions of being deeply listened to and understood.

When deeply listened to, one usually opens up more, goes a little deeper in their own awareness of their experience, makes good decisions for themselves, feels more trusting of others and themselves, and has more confidence to proceed. Being listened to also helps one to listen more fully to others.

Here’s a simple practice to try with your partner if you find your relationship is a bit strained, or have realized your relationship needs some help, or you’ve grown apart some. This mindful listening practice helps you to practice being the talker, and the listener, and to know your internal experience in each role.

Take 10 minutes to have each person talk for 90 seconds, with full attention from the other. The listener does not interrupt or offer suggestions, criticisms, judgments. Just listen open heartedly. The talker talks freely and periodically notices how he/she feels to be sharing this way, by checking in with one’s body and feelings and shares this as well.

Take a break for 30 seconds, after the first person talks, to be silent together. No further addressing anything that was said.

Then trade positions, so the first listener becomes the talker and the first talker becomes the listener. Each one should privately note their own feelings and body sensations as they talk or listen. The second person then talks for 90 seconds, without interruption.

Follow this with 30 seconds of shared quiet. Then take 3 to 5 minutes to repeat out loud what each listener heard in each round. Follow this with each person sharing what it was like to be the talker to someone who was fully listening, and to be the deep listener, including any difficulties that came up.

Start this mindful listening practice with a simple question like “What brings you joy?” Listen for something you haven’t heard before. Just be curious and open to whatever your partner presents. As you get practiced at listening more fully, you can move to more difficult questions. (Like what brings you sadness? What do you wish was different in your life? How have I disappointed you? etc.).

Seeing a therapist can help you to get untangled in a relationship where you feel your discussions go nowhere, or always end up in arguments. Many couples feel relieved to have a place to come where they can both be heard and learn skills to help them listen better to their partner. Usually they find that when they begin to listen better they also get listened to better in return. Listening helps to build bridges and reconnect and deepen relationships and one’s sense of mattering.

I’d love to hear from you, what areas of your life do you struggle with in listening or being listened to? You can respond to this email/post and share what’s true for you.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT

Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445


  1. […] How to practice listening… A Mindful Listening Exercise for Couples […]

Leave a Comment