Being Present and Attentive when Dating is Disintegrating: Active Listening to the Rescue

Modern Couple Talking in Living Room

In today’s fast-paced, attention economy grabbing culture, where distractions are ubiquitous, genuine communication has become more difficult and those skills have deteriorated. This can pose quite an additional challenge when dating and establishing early relationship, where building a strong communications connection is essential. One of the most critical skill sets you can develop to navigate this terrain is active listening, a practice that involves fully engaging in conversations and demonstrating genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Just like good sex, successful active listening is a learned skill set of multiple components being deployed. Below are the important skills to learn and practice in becoming an active listener when dating and in the early stages of a relationship.

  1. Be Present and Attentive

To become an active listener, you must first be present and attentive. This means not becoming 5hop[distracted by your phone, a television, other devices, and your own mind, focusing solely on the conversation at hand. Be mindful, make eye contact, maintain an open body language, and lean in slightly to show that you’re interested in what your date or partner is saying. Of course there will be times you will get distracted, that’s being human. At those times it’s all about smoothly coming back to the “table” with your active listening attention. Sometimes doing a breathing exercise to clear your mind from your daily activities, projects, etc..can help clear the way to presence and attention. On top of that, working with intention of being present also helps with focusing on your date or partner. It’s also normal to get distracted with something going on around you; say you are at a restaurant and there is a loud party going on at another table, reestablish your focus with your dte by just thinking the word intention and your back. By creating a communications intentional atmosphere, you encourage open communication and set the stage for deeper connections.

  1. Listen with Empathy and Non-judgment

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. To actively listen with empathy, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and validate their emotions. This doesn’t have to mean agreeing with everything the person says, but rather acknowledging and respecting their perspective. Express your empathy through verbal cues, such as saying, “I can understand why you feel that way,” or using nonverbal cues, like nodding your head in agreement. Remember That Everyone Has a Unique Story, each person has an individual background and set of experiences that shape their perspectives and beliefs. Remembering this can help you approach conversations with humility and an open mind, recognizing that your date or partner may have valid reasons for their thoughts and feelings. Adopting this mindset can enable you to listen more effectively and foster greater understanding and empathy.

Non-judgment means suspending your evaluation or criticism of another person’s thoughts, feelings, or actions, and instead, seeking to understand their perspective. By sharing a non-judgmental attitude, you can create an environment where your date or partner feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions without fear of being judged or dismissed. To practice non-judgmental listening, it’s essential first to recognize your own biases and preconceived notions that may inadvertently or unconsciously influence how you perceive and respond to others. Be self-aware when listening to your date or partner, adopt a curious mindset, concentrate on understanding their point of view rather than categorizing their statements and immediately agreeing or disagreeing. There is a wonderful saying, “ listen to understand, not to respond”. Becoming aware of these biases can help you make a conscious effort to set them aside when engaging in active listening.

  1. Ask Creative and Open-Ended Questions

Now you can’t just listen and not contribute to the conversation, and active listening exponentially helps you ask better questions, especially creative, open-ended questions. Asking creative, open-ended questions is an excellent way to demonstrate your interest and encourage your date or partner to share more about themselves. These questions typically begin with “how,” “what,” “why,” or “tell me about,” and allow the other person to provide a more detailed response. For example, instead of asking, “So tell me about yourself” or “Did you have a good day?”, try asking, “What song makes you smile every time you hear it?” and “What was the highlight of your day?” This encourages a more in-depth conversation, shows that you are genuinely curious about their experiences and builds upon your active listening for an even more creative, discovery conversation.

  1. Reflect and Clarify

Active listening involves not just hearing the words, but also understanding the underlying meaning. To do this, periodically reflect on what your date or partner has said and clarify any points that may be unclear. You can use statements like, “If I understand correctly, you’re saying that…” or “It sounds like you felt…” This skill is extremely helpful at not getting something wrong, making sure that you’re on the same page and also demonstrates your commitment to understanding your date’s perspective.

  1. Avoid Interrupting and Offering Unsolicited Advice

When engaging in conversation, it’s crucial to avoid interrupting your date or partner, as this can make them feel unheard or unimportant. Instead, wait for them to finish speaking before offering your thoughts or asking questions. Also, avoid the temptation to offer unsolicited advice, as this may come across as patronizing or dismissive. Focus on understanding and supporting their feelings rather than trying to “fix” the situation.

  1. Practice Active Listening in Everyday Conversations

To become a better active listener, practice these techniques in everyday conversations, not just when dating or in early relationship. By making active listening a habit, you’ll naturally become more skilled at engaging in meaningful conversations and building stronger connections with others.

  1. You Have to Want it

None of the skills and practices discussed above work without clear intention. Before your date or conversation ever begins you need to have a clear intention of truly wanting to learn about this person and bringing intentional respect to the table. Feeling your intention helps to have an open mind and ears for confident, active listening.

Becoming an active listener takes time, some introspection, patience, and practice. By applying these tips and techniques in your dating and early relationship experiences, you’ll be better equipped to create open communication, develop empathy, and ultimately build stronger, more meaningful connections. Remember, active listening is an invaluable skill set that you will have with you for the rest of your relationship and your life. It will be there for you in learning someone, but also in discussing awkward subjects: sexual compatibility, next relationship steps, and personal vulnerabilities, just to name a few. And best of all, active listening leads to personal growth and more self-awareness, remember, “ you learn more about yourself with every person you get to know”.




Lori Rudiger is a certified Interpersonal Communications Coach and passion instigator for life, relationship and love. Lori has loved wholly, lived through deep loss from partner death, and experienced dating in the 21st century. Yet, the passion for living in joy, personal agency, and connection only strengthened through the ensuing years.