Listening is not rocket science, but it can change the course of your life.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 10, King Solomon has died and his son Rehoboam has taken his place. The people come to Rehoboam and ask him to ease some of the heavy burdens of taxes and labor his father Solomon had imposed on them. They tell Rehoboam that if he will do this, they will be his loyal, committed followers.
Rehoboam asks the advice of the older counselors and they advise him to listen to the people. But Rehoboam doesn’t listen to these counselors or the people. Instead, he follows the advice of younger, more arrogant advisors who encourage him to increase the load on the people.
Consequently, 84% of his people dessert him. A high price to pay for not listening.
But here’s the back story. His father had the same problem. In 1 Kings chapter 11, God warned Solomon against marrying women from other nations, so as to not be led into worshipping their gods. But Solomon didn’t listen…setting the stage for what happened with his son, Rehoboam. (1 Kings 11:10-12)
Can listening be that important? Well, suppose your spouse has been telling you for some time, “I’m not happy. We need to work on our marriage.” If you choose to not listen to them, you could wind up with an unhappy marriage at best or a divorce at worst. And this will affect your children, their marriages, and their children.
Listening is that important! So, this week, make listening a big part of your everyday life. Listen to God through His Word and His Spirit. Listen to the people He’s put in your life. Listen, and it will change your life.
So, Your spouse comes to you with a problem and you’re really trying to be helpful. But before you know it, the whole situation has gone south and now your spouse is upset with you. Ever had that happen, or is it just me?
If this has happened to you, you know it’s not always easy to know what to do when your spouse comes to you with a problem. It may sound like they want help, but the minute you try to help you are met with either an icy stare or guns blazing.
You Don’t Have to be an Expert.
You don’t have to avoid these situations. And you don’t have to be a trained counselor or have all the answers to help your spouse when they bring you a problem.
Your attentive presence can go a long way to helping your spouse. But how do you do that…without nodding off or getting bored? I’ve got nine suggestions for you to try when your spouse comes to you with a problem. Even one of these will be an improvement on your approach, and the more you can implement, the better off you’ll be.
Nine Simple Suggestions:
1. Listen Longer and Deeper Than Feels Natural.
Too often, we listen just long enough to get the gist of things, and then we wade in with our thoughts and opinions. But you need to listen long. Don’t jump in when they stop talking, because they’re probably not finished. I know this is not what you want to hear, but learn to sit in uncomfortable silence. This will allow them to open up even more. And don’t just listen to what they say. Listen to how they say it. What are the emotions behind their words? Where do they get angry or tear up? Where do they hesitate, or where does their voice trail off. What is their body language telling you? Listen with both your ears and your eyes.
2. Reflect Back What You Hear and See, Rather than what you Think.
Telling your spouse what you think about their problem should be your last response. First, reflect back to them what you’ve heard them say and the emotions you hear in their voice. It will let them know you’re truly listening. This will foster their trust and help them process things for themselves. Sometimes people just need to bounce things off of you so they can hear the echo and work through it themselves.
3. Suspend Judgement…For Now.
This is hard to do because we all tend to jump to conclusions and make quick judgments. But make a decision up front that you’re going to suspend judgment until you’ve heard everything completely through. Make sure you have the complete picture. And chances are, your spouse needs your support more than your judgment…even if your judgment’s right.
4. Empathize As If It Were You.
Mentally put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were in their position? Would you be afraid, embarrassed, angry, worried, depressed? What would be your concerns? Putting yourself in their shoes goes a long way toward helping you connect and understand them.
5. Be a Friend, Not a Fixer.
Sometimes, we jump into fix-it mode because we care about our spouses and genuinely want to help them. But sometimes we quickly jump into fix-it mode because we’re uncomfortable with their hurt, pain, anger, fear, or grief. Often, when we try to fix things for our spouse, we stop listening, oversimplify their issue, and come across as arrogant and impatient. None of these are helpful. More than fixing things, your spouse needs you to listen while they work things out themselves.
6. Point Out Their Strengths, Rather Than Their Mistakes.
Your spouse is probably already painfully aware of where they’ve messed up. Chances are, they’ve already mentally rehearsed their mistake to a fault. What they need is for you to come alongside of them and remind them of their strengths and abilities. This will spur them on to how they can use those to deal with their current problem.
7. Put Off Giving Advice as Long as Possible.
Let’s say your spouse has gotten things off their chest and now they look at you and say, “So what do you think I should do?” Do not bite on that bait! Stall as long as you can before giving advice. Instead, say something like, “Man, that’s a hard spot. What have you thought about doing?” Remember, you’re not trying to fix things for them. You’re trying to help them come to a resolution on their own. Besides, if you tell them what to do, and it doesn’t work, then you’re really in trouble!
8. Wonder Out Loud, Rather Than Give Advice.
If your spouse is tired of talking about it and they’re really pushing you for your advice, Then couch your words in uncertain speculation. For example, you might say something like, “I don’t know, but I wonder if something like ______________ might be helpful.” This makes it easier for your spouse to connect with you because you’re not coming across as an expert who’s telling them what to do. You’re just wondering out loud.
9. Be Patient With Them as They Struggle and Grow.
People are complicated and messy. We’re not machines. We’re more like plants. Seeds must be planted in the soil of difficulty and given time to grow. Then those plants need to be nurtured and cared for as they grow out of their difficulty. So be patient with your spouse. Sooner or later, they will probably figure things out. But your job is not to force growth. It’s to provide the environment for growth.
A FINAL WORD…
Never underestimate the importance of compassionately listening to and walking with your spouse as they voice their struggles and problems. Your caring presence and listening ear have more power to help your spouse than anything you can say or do.
I have done a lot of premarital counseling, and I’ve found it to be both enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable, because you get the opportunity to walk with a couple and to speak into their present and future lives. Frustrating, because many of these couples have no frame of reference for what you’re telling them…and they’re often too “in love” to hear it anyway.
Engaged couples mean well and they want to have the best marriage possible. It’s just that the excitement of becoming Mr. and Mrs. makes it hard from them to really imagine the feelings and frustrations they will face down the road. The light in their fiancé’s eyes blinds them to the issues that are there. The blood that rushes to their head (and other places) keeps them from hearing things they need to hear.
Remember when you first realized that marriage wasn’t what you thought it would be? Maybe it was the first time you realized those quirky parts of your spouse’s personality weren’t going to change like you thought/hoped they would. Perhaps it was when you discovered that their approach to money felt less like pulling together and more like tug-of-war. Maybe it was when you realized the sexual tension and excitement you felt during the honeymoon phase had morphed into a dull predictability that was just a notch above doing the laundry.
We’ve all encountered things in marriage and found ourselves thinking, “I wish someone had told me about this.” So I’ve thought about it, and here are some things I would tell my newly married self:
You don’t need to be right all the time…even if you think you are.
Dirty clothes go in the hamper, not on the floor beside the hamper.
Just because they say they’re fine, doesn’t mean they are.
“I wish we were closer” probably means something different to them than it does for you.
When they say, “There’s nothing in this house to eat,” it doesn’t they want to go get groceries.
They can criticize their parents. You cannot!
People’s standards for cleanliness vary greatly.
Just because their personality is different from yours doesn’t mean they are brain damaged.
Your sex life will occasionally ebb and flow, but it will always take work.
If you don’t look at them, you’re not really listening to them.
It’s ok to disagree on how to raise children. They will grow up anyway.
Compromise is not surrender.
It won’t hurt you to watch what they like to watch. (I’m still learning this one.)
The more you’re willing to release, the more you’re able to receive.
When you say, “Where do you want to eat,” and they say, “Anywhere’s fine,” DON’T BELIEVE IT!
These are just a few of the things I would tell my newly married self. I’ll bet you could add to the list. What would you tell your newly married self? Leave your ideas in the comments and let’s see how many of these we can collect…for all those people who don’t know what they’re getting into!