Are You Listening?

“Are you listening to me?” “You never listen to me.” “I’ve tried to tell you, but you just don’t listen.” “If you would listen you would know.”

Have you ever heard your spouse say something like this? If so, join the ranks of the many. Not listening is one of the most common complaints I hear from spouses. I’m sure my spouse has complained about it also, but I probably wasn’t listening at the time. Why do so many of us drop the ball when it comes to listening?

  1. We don’t realize how powerful listening can be. The simple act of listening adds value to a person’s life. Listening can lower a person’s stress and help them think through their problems. As a former hospice chaplain, I’ve seen the simple act of listening lengthen and improve the lives of the terminally ill. Listening can raise a marriage to new heights, but a lack of listening can cause a marriage to plummet like a crippled satellite burning up on re-entry.
  2. We confuse hearing with listening. Maybe this has happened to you. In a voice thick with frustration, you hear your spouse say, “What did I just say?” And even when you flawlessly repeat what they just said, they are still frustrated with you. Why? Because there’s a difference between hearing what a person says and listening to what they’re telling you. Listening pays attention to body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Listening takes into account the emotions and the context behind what is being said. A friend of mine will sometimes say, “I need you to listen with your face.” I would add to that. You need to listen with your face and your heart.
  3. We’re too distracted. We are an overstimulated people with too many things on our plate, too many notifications on our phone, and too many social media accounts on our screens. It’s getting harder and harder to focus on just one thing. But know this…wherever you focus your attention reveals what is most important to you in that moment. When you’re too distracted to listen to your spouse, you communicate that they are just not that important.
  4. We are too self-absorbed. Let’s be honest. Most of us wrestle with our fair share of selfishness. We work hard to curb our selfishness when we’re dating and early in marriage, but the longer we’re married the more our selfishness come outs. When we’re too wrapped up in ourselves to really listen to our spouse, we’re showing them that we think we are more important than they are. Philippians 2:4 cautions us about this when it says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
  5. We are too focused on responding. I remember a time when my wife was upset and frustrated with a situation at her work. She started talking to me about how difficult it was and how she just didn’t know what to do. I really listened at first, but after a few minutes I was thinking, “I believe I understand the problem here and I think I know what would help.” So as soon as there was a pause in the conversation, I began lay out the plan of action she should follow. Needless to say, it didn’t go over very well. My response revealed I wasn’t really listening to her. The same is true when you’re having a disagreement with your spouse and you’re so busy formulating your argument that you don’t really listening to your spouse’s position? The book of Proverbs gives us this warning: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Prov. 18:13 (ESV)

What can you do to make it better? If you’re having trouble really listening to your spouse, here’s a suggestion that might help…

  • Go to your local school supply store and buy a small hour glass timer. The kind with sand in it. (Get one that last between 30 and 60 seconds.)
  • When you or your spouse have something important to talk about, take out the timer and turn it over to start it.
  • At this point, the spouse who needs to talk starts talking while the other spouse focuses on really listening.
  • When the sand runs out, the spouse that’s been talking stops and the spouse that’s been listening tells them what they heard them say. (The listener needs to do more than just parrot back the words they heard. They need to talk about how they believe the speaker is feeling and why they are feeling that way.)
  • If the listener’s feedback is correct, then the listener turns the timer over and gets the chance to say what they want to say while the other spouse listens. If the listener’s feedback misses the mark, then the first speaker turns the timer over and has another chance to communicate what they’re trying to say.
  • The couple continues this pattern until both are satisfied with the conversation.

This may sound silly, but it really works! The timer keeps the speaker from going off on a long monologue. This allows the listener to listen in smaller segments and have a better chance of really hearing what’s being said. This approach also forces the listener to really work at listen to what the speaker is trying to say…because if they don’t, the listener won’t get their chance to give their input. Give it a try!

Listening is the most valuable gift you can give your spouse and your marriage, and anyone can do it. All it cost is a little time and attention.

What do you think about listening in a marriage? What tips do you have for how to improve listening in marriage? If you try the sand timer tip, let me know what you thought of it.

Copyright © 2015 Bret Legg

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