“We Listen to Meanings” – The Overlooked Skill in Romantic Relationships

Relationship Toronto

“Listening is not done by the ears, but by the mind,” opined organisational behaviour expert Erik van de Loo. “We hear sounds, but we listen to meanings.”

Cultivating this skill – the rare ability to listen to meaning (and not just hearing the sounds of another’s voice) – is practically essential for finding success in the business world, particularly in this modern culture “that speaks rather than listens.”

But deftly honing the skill of listening is not only of importance in the realm of high-stakes business; it is also of immense significance in romantic relationships, and an often overlooked aspect of successful relationships.

An individual who listens to a romantic partner helps ensure the long-term health and goodness of that relationship. On the other hand, couples who fail to lend each other their actively listening ears and minds – these are the couples in relationships which struggle and ultimately falter.

Yet, despite the necessity of meaningful listening in romantic relationships – something well- known among legions of relationship counselors and therapists – far too few people devote much time to developing this skill.

With that in mind, here are a number of insights and tools to refine your listening skills.


  • If at all possible, when your partner is speaking to you, give them your full attention. Although multitasking is becoming ever more embedded in our daily habits – largely due to the massive array of tasks which computer technology allows us to tackle – the adroit listener is able to shift his or her focus to whatever is being said. Engaging in multiple tasks while your partner speaks to you is the exact opposite of listening.


  • Understand that real listening is a habit. In other words, it’s not a skill that will come to you right away. Most of us have been raised in a society that – to an extent, at least – disregards the value of listening. Replacing this social conditioning with the skill of active listening takes time, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t a phenomenally better listener overnight. Instead, focus on paying close attention to your partner as much as you can (and whenever you can); over time, this action will translate into a lifelong habit of active listening.


  • Harness the power of curiosity. You cannot be a prodigious listener without harnessing your inner curiosity – your curiosity about the world, about ideas, about people and what they do and say and think. If you tap into this curiosity – into this deep, profound interest in your partner – active listening will become a well-lodged habit of yours rather quickly.  

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