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Want some sound advice on relationships? Listen up

The most important body parts, when it comes to a relationship, are your ears. They tell you how those closest to you are feeling. They help you find out and understand what you need to know to make yourself, and your relationship, the best it can be.

When you listen with attentiveness to those you love, you will win their appreciation. Even if they are venting, listening to their complaints will make them better partners because they will know that you care and that makes it easier for them to act in a loving way.

We can all become better listeners. Sometimes all that takes is breaking bad habits and learning good techniques.

Here are tips that will help make listening to your partner a joy rather than a challenge:

Make the decision to listen better. When you commit to this intention, you are halfway there. Your willingness to get better at listening is something your partner will sense and that can make the difference between a chat and an argument.

Don't try to read your partner's mind. Unless you have a crystal ball handy, wait until the other person has finished talking before you decide what your partner is really talking about or what you are going to say next.

Don't fake listening. Smiles, occasional head nods or a grunt here and there do not mean you are actually listening. You may think you're getting away with something, but the end result is that your partner will be left feeling unheard.

Learn to listen attentively. Paraphrase what your partner has said and then ask a question or two. If you want to enhance your listening ability (and your partner's positive response) learn to listen for the feelings behind what is being said and acknowledge them.

Don't use listening as a weapon. If you listen for gaps so you can say what you want or wait for your partner to make mistakes so you can make a correction, you are not listening; you're trying to control the conversation. Let your loved one say what he or she needs to say in the way that he or she needs to say it.

Don't take it personally. If you listen with the idea that you are being attacked, you will become defensive and will not hear what is being said. In response, your partner will sense your insecurity and be less willing to share important feelings with you.

Maintain eye contact. This lets a person know that he or she has 100 percent of your attention.

The feeling that you have really been listened to is akin to knowing that you are really loved. Getting better at listening is something you can do over a lifetime or overnight. All it takes is the desire to be there for the one you love.