Have you ever been in a conversation with your spouse and you zoned out, only to wake up to these words, “Are you listening to me?” Or maybe you were in a heated discussion where you were graciously sharing the benefit of your knowledge with your spouse, only to have them interrupt you and say, “Are you listening to me?”
It seems like listening should be easy. After all, all you have to do is listen. But listening is not easy. We do a poor job of listening to our spouse when…
- We are more concerned with what we have to say than with what they have to say.
- We work harder at spotting what’s wrong with what they’re saying than spotting what’s right with what they’re saying.
- We assume we know what they’re trying to say before they’ve finished saying it.
- We don’t give them our full attention.
But learning to really listen to your spouse is one of the most loving things you can do, because it communicates love, respect and support. So here’s a few way you can learn to be a better listener…
Listen Longer – Few of us listen as long as we should. People need time to formulate their thoughts and get things out, so you have to be patient as they talk. Here are some ways you can listen longer:
- Listen to the end of their sentence. Don’t interrupt.
- Don’t assume you know what they’re saying and jump in to give a response before they’re finished.
- Don’t feel like you have to fill the “dead space” just because they’ve stopped talking. When you think they’re done talking, wait. Often, if you leave them that space, your spouse will open up even more.
- When you think they’ve talked something completely through, try to keep them talking by asking questions like, “How do you feel about that?” “What can you do?” “What are you going to do?” “How can I help?”
- If you don’t have as much time as they need, let them know that you really want to listen to them, but that your time is limited. Then set a time the two of you can get together and talk things out at length.
We should follow James Patterson’s example in Along Came a Spider…“I never miss a good chance to shut up.”
Even the Bible points out the importance of listening longer:
- Proverbs 18:13 – “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” (NLT)
- James. 1:19 – “…You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (NLT)
Listen Deeper – You need to listen deeper than just the words being said. Shannon Alder said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life long quest of the wise.” You need to listen to the emotions behind the words. You need to listen to the context of the words. You need to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, “What would I be thinking, feeling, needing, etc. The real message is usually deeper than the initial words, so you have to listen deeper.
Here’s an example of listening deeper…Suppose you and your spouse both get home late one evening. You turn to your spouse and innocently ask, What are we going to have for dinner?” Your spouse glares at you and says, “I don’t know. There’s really nothing in this house to eat.” If you listen to just the words, you might quickly say, “Well we need to go get groceries.” But that response will either get you the Captain Obvious award or your spouse’s hands around your neck. Instead, if you look at the glare in their eyes and listen to the frustration in their voice you might say, “It sounds like it’s been a tough day. Why don’t we go grab a bite to eat somewhere and you can tell me about it.” That’s listening deeper.
Listen Wider – It’s really easy for us to get “tunnel vision” when talking to our spouse. We can focus in on one fact, one detail, or one situation and lose sight of everything else they’re saying. We really need to listen more broadly. Listen for other things that are going on in their life that might be worrisome to them. Listen for their hopes as well as their hurts. Listen to where they’re fearful and where their fearless.
And I would add one more thing. A friend of mine says it best. You should…
Listen with your face – One of the best ways to show someone you’re really listening to them is to turn and look at them when they are talking to you. It not only shows respect, it shows your spouse that nothing is more important than them in that moment.
Finally, remember that when your spouse wants to talk, they want to talk things out more than get things fixed. They want connection more then correction. They want to be heard more than helped. So listen longer, deeper, wider and with your full attention. And may your spouse never have to say to you, “Are you listening to me?
Leave a comment and let us know what you have learned about listening in marriage?
Copyright © 2015 Bret Legg