How to Listen With The Third Ear

The first duty of love in any relationship is to listen. When we are heard we feel known, loved and understood. Listening is an essential ingredient in good communication. But in order to be a good listener, you need to learn how to listen with the third ear.

By doing this, you don’t just listen to the actual words that are spoken, you learn to feel the emotions that flow within the conversation as well. So how can you learn to listen with the third ear?

Tune in to the message beneath the words

If you can hear, you can listen – right? Wrong. Hearing is passive and listening is active. Listening is not just about hearing what is being said to you, it’s about hearing the message and feelings behind the words.

For example – your spouse informs you about an important meeting and they seem “off” or flustered. When you actually listen carefully by noticing those feelings in their words (or their body language), you can tell it’s because they are likely anxious. Show empathy – let them know that you understand how they feel and then talk through it with them.

In every conversation two people have, especially those in love, there’s a river of emotion that underlies the words being spoken. When you take the time to sift through the emotions of your partner and listen with a third ear, you will be able to successfully reflect back to them how they feel, and in turn you’ll unlock a whole new connection with your partner.

The worst listening mistake you can make

We all do it. The famed “putting words in other people’s mouths.” This is the worst listening mistake we can make! Part of listening to your spouse is getting down to the bottom of the true meaning, without being accusatory. Envision the following conversation:

Spouse 1: Honey, why don’t you take some time this week to yourself and go shopping for some new clothes.
Spouse 2: What? You don’t think I look pretty anymore?
Spouse 1: No, I just know you love shopping! And I thought you’d enjoy some time away from taking care of the kids.

Invented words can be much more powerful than the ones that are spoken. By creating an imagined meaning behind something you can project your own fears and frustrations onto an otherwise harmless dialogue.

This can be avoided outright by actually asking your spouse what they intended if you are unsure – we call this the Let Me Read Your Mind game. If you are unsure about the true meaning of what your spouse is saying, ask if you can “read their mind.” Once you let them know what you think they mean, your spouse lets you know if this is correct. This is a fun way to ask for clarity if you don’t understand the emotions behind your partner’s words.

Listen S-L-O-W-L-Y

Last, but certainly not to be counted as least, is to learn how to listen slowly. How do you actually slow down what you hear? Well, you technically can’t, but you can show your partner that you are giving them the time to speak. If you are constantly rushing between one activity and the next, it may feel like your conversations are rushed. The truth is, they probably are.

But by taking a moment to sit and listen to each other – uninterrupted – you can slow down your conversations and tune-in to the meaning behind them. After all, there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. We are born to be good listeners. Listening with the third ear is, pure and simple, the gift of understanding.

Do you want to explore more? Check out the newly released edition of our book Love Talk. You’ll learn how to speak your partner’s language like you never have before.

How do you show your partner you are listening with the third ear? What do you wish your spouse would do different to show you they are truly listening?


  • Gwendolyn Wendt says:

    This is a great message to keep in mind when with your spouse. Thank You. Will pass along.
    Gwen W.

  • Jennifer Youngerman says:

    Thank you for this advice! I am guilty of being a horrible listener!

  • Robert Layton says:

    This is good for women but does not work for men.

  • Sharon Shepard says:

    Robert, please help me understand what you mean by, “…but does not work with men.”

    I truly want to know your thoughts on this.

  • K. Hill says:

    Even as a Clinical Psychologist, and as a married woman of 34 years, I value your inspirational articles! I am always challenged to learn, grow in my compassion and understanding, and my ability to love others more. Thank you!

  • Alyssa says:

    I have to admit that I am sooooooooo guilty of NOT listening well to what my husband has to say. I’m always ready to jump in with facts/reasons why his idea is not a good one. I think it has to do with my concern he’s not thinking everything through or realistically–especially when it comes to our finances. This is a good message for me to “hear” (aka read) to remind me that my words aren’t the only ones in our marriage. He constantly says he thinks his feelings and opinions don’t matter and I’m constantly saying they do; however, my actions tell a different story. This is something I really need to work on so our marriage will have better communication and my husband will feel included and that he matters to me. I always say to him, “Actions speak louder than words.” But when it comes down to it, I’m not practicing what I preach.

  • MaryTherese Sanders says:

    I’m having a hard time with this. Mind reading is one thing but on cross examination of what you said or did often feels like an interrogation to me.

    • J says:

      I think everyone is prone to wording something in a way that doesn’t accurately convey the intended meaning, and everyone is also prone to misunderstanding a communication from time to time. The goal is not to interrogate, but rather to request clarification in a way that gives both parties the benefit of the doubt. I have found that it helps to follow this format: “What I hear you saying is … (relay comment in your own words) … is that accurate, or would you mind clarifying what you meant?”

  • Gina’LaVita Hudson says:

    Thanks for sharing… I try to stop and look in my husband eyes when he is speaking so I don’t only hear, but see what he is communicating too me. Active listening = Love for me!

  • H. Vernon says:

    I truly am in touch with what you have shared as I have found it to be true in my own life and relationship with my wife…Consequently, Dr. Les, is it possible for you to take us a little deeper into the dynamics of listening and hearing. What is the process we are going through when we are hearing in order to see what we are listening to, and vice versa when we are listening.

    In my understanding of dealing with feelings and emotions I have discovered that emotions are internal and feelings are external. Hope you can share with us these two journeys. Thank you i advance.

  • A says:

    Great read and insight! Yes it’s true we women can talk more than listen but this is great for any relationship ..including men who have a teachable spirit.

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