Listening Is Key to Relationship Satisfaction

If you’re like most people, chances are you’d rather have a partner who listens to what you have to say. Listening is an important ingredient to healthy relationships, and a new study highlights at least one reason why this may be the case.

The study, by researchers in Switzerland, the United States and Germany, was published this month in a paper titled The Power of Listening: Lending an Ear to the Partner During Dyadic Coping Conversations.

In the study, 365 straight couples had 8-minute conversations where one of the partners talked about a stressful experience they had. During the study, observers the rated extent to which one partner was expressing stress and the other partner was listening attentively every 10 seconds. Couples were also surveyed about their experiences in the relationship.

The central question in all this was: when one partner was expressing stress, did the other partner listen attentively?

As it turns out, couples where the listening partner was more attentive during expressions of stress fared better. These couples had higher relationship satisfaction, and they were better at coping with stress as a couple.

In other words, one reason attentive listening makes a difference in relationships may be that it makes partners better able to support each other in times of stress and to deal with stress effectively as a couple. It’s possible that part of what the researchers call “the power of listening” is in helping couples work through stress together.

This is good news for couples who are already excellent listeners. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s good news for couples who have room for improvement in this area because it suggests that practicing the ability to listen to one another during times of stress may be a concrete way of raising relationship satisfaction. This prospect led the authors of the paper to conclude that active listening in specific contexts like when one partner is expressing stress could become an “intervention target in couple therapy and in relationship education programs.”

Image: Flickr/Garry Knight