I have been confronted for years with an issue of which I only recently realized the full impact: That I interrupt others and dominate conversations. I have done this especially with my wife and children. And when conversations turn tough or tensions rise, if I don't want to listen, I have retreated either within myself or physically to another room.
I have never been a good listener, having not been trained very well in social graces to begin with. If I interrupt or fail to listen, then one can easily conclude that I don't value the things that the person is saying. There is likely some truth to this, as I haven't valued women well as I should, and have been loaded up with too much patriarchal teachings to respect the position of a wife as a co-equal heir in Christ. I was also brought up in a household where children should be seen and not heard, and their opinions are of the same importance as horse dung. This is a severe problem when we are supposed to be loving others.
I would really like to repent of this, because I'm suddenly realizing the pure joy that I and my family members are having with each other as we actively listen to each other's opinions, concerns, and just every day happenings. I need to let people speak their mind, especially when five of the six oldest people in the house are female - women thrive off of sharing their hearts by having someone listen without interrupting, and knowing that they are valued. I'm not certain of all of the dynamics here, but I'm learning. I am certain that there should be more tradeoff in conversations, but sometimes when relationships have been strained as a result of your devaluation of others, then you need to prove to them that you value and love them, sometimes by just listening.
So, active listening, from what I understand, is just listening with the goal of absorbing everything that the person is saying, and helping to fill gaps and further the conversation only by asking quick, pointed questions about details, clarification, or asking what they mean by a statement.
I had an experience recently where a daughter didn't want me in the room to listen to a conversation that she was having with her mom, "because I interrupt sometimes." So, after their conversation was over and she wasn't busy, it seemed like she still wanted to talk, and I lent an ear to the same stories that she told mom, and did a pretty good job actively listening. I'd give myself a B+ or A-. It enriched the evening so much, that I was excited about it.
A good marriage will be one of exchanges, but not where you are dominating the conversation. If you ever find yourself dominating a conversation, it might be wise to switch tracks and attempt to just actively listen for a while before saying anything. Consider what the person is saying, mentally mull what they are saying, value what they are saying, and do your best to work on equal terms with them, not as lording it over those in your care.
As for 'retreating', if you retreat into yourself as a result of everyday activities or conversations that you just don't like, then you may want to think more about being Christ-like and sacrificial as you serve others in our Lord's name. This is also a tactic for someone that feels overwhelmed by the conversation, whether because the other person is being hurtful or the topic is just too difficult to bear. Sometimes there are mental and spiritual blocks on the person not wanting to talk to the other person and hear them out. I would say that in a relationship, this is poisonous, for many reasons. If there is a level contempt that causes one person to speak too harshly or for the other person to shut themselves off, then you probably need deep biblical counseling in your relationship. Forgiveness might be an issue, as may be a basic level of respect and love that is due to everyone, even your enemies.
One last note here: think of how you actually value people. God wants us to value every life in a precious manner, even more so those within your own family. We should respect everything that they are and have to say. Respect where they are at, hoping and praying for them, and not brow-beating or debating them into submission. LOVE THEM with patience, kindness, forgiveness, selflessness, and hope.
As a tongue-in-cheek example of where a woman wants to have her feelings valued, watch the following comedy... It's Not About the Nail.