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.
When you were growing up and needed to get your parents to sign off on something, didn’t you know which parent was more likely to say “yes” to what you wanted? Isn’t that the parent you went to?
As adults, we still tend to seek advice from friends and family whose opinions are in line with ours.
In 2 Kings chapter 1, King Ahaziah of Israel is seriously injured and seeking the advice of a pagan prophet.
But Elijah, the prophet of God, intercepts the king’s messenger. Elijah tells the messenger to return to king Ahaziah and tell him that, because he turned to a false god for information, he would die in the bed to which he was currently confined.
Furious at not receiving the answer he wanted, the king sends soldiers to arrest Elijah. But the soldiers are destroyed as a sign that Elijah was delivering truth from God. The king sends more soldiers, and the same thing happens to them. Then, the king sends even more soldiers. But this time the soldiers ask Elijah to be merciful and spare them. Elijah not only spares them, but he also returns with them to confront the king.
Elijah comes before the king and delivers the exact message he delivered in the beginning. No embellishment. No dramatics. He simply repeats the original message.
What happened next?! 2 Kings 1:17 makes this simple, matter-of-fact statement: “So Ahaziah died, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.” It happened exactly as God said it would.
What is it that leads us to turn to anything and everything but God? Why do we turn to that which will feed our ego, rather than to that which will feed our soul? Why do we fish for the answers we want, rather than the truth we need?
God knows the beginning from the end. (Revelation 1:8) He has the answers we need, and we should pursue His answers, even if they’re not really what we want to hear.
You’ve heard it a million times. “Communication is the key to a good marriage.” This cliché statement has caused many an eye-roll in marriage, but here’s the problem…there’s communication in every marriage. Even when you’re not saying anything, you’re saying something.
It’s not a lack of communication that erodes a marriage. It’s a lack of good communication. (I can almost see your eyes glazing over as your mind begins to drift off to more interesting things, but stick with me for just a minute.)
I want to give you a simple approach to communication that will clear up miscommunication, cut down on conflict, and help keep you out of the doghouse. Interested?
Here it is. To clear up your communication you need UPS.
I’m not saying UPS can deliver a package that will clear up all your communication problems. (If that were so, I would have already placed my order and have my nose pressed up against the window awaiting delivery.)
In communication, the big key is in receiving what your spouse is trying to deliver to you. So we’re going to use the letters U-P-S to help you with receiving your spouse’s messages.
U – Understand.
Any good communication starts with understanding. Too often we jump in to add our 2 cents before we really understand what our spouse is trying to say. If you’ve done that, you have the scars and horror stories to show for it.
To make sure you truly understand what your spouse is telling you, you need to:
Listen. I’m not talking about listening for where they’re wrong. Neither am I talking about listening for an opening so you can jump in. These don’t work…trust me! I’m talking about really listening to what they’re saying, to how they’re saying it, and to the emotions behind their words. This is hard work. You can’t assume and you can’t check out.
Ask. If there’s something you don’t understand or something that’s unclear to you about what your spouse is saying, then kindly ask your spouse for clarification. It’s important to ask for needed clarification because responding to your spouse before you understand them is a sure way to make things worse.
Feedback. Before you respond to your spouse, repeat back to them what you think they’re trying to say to you. Tell them what you’ve heard them say and how you think they are feeling. If you get something wrong, then give them a chance to correct it. This is a good way to ensure you know exactly what they’re trying to say to you before you respond.
Having done all of this, you would think it would now be your time to talk. But not yet! Be patient young Jedi. Next, you need to…
P – Ponder.
Once your spouse has communicated and you’re sure you know what they’re trying to tell you, you need to take a second to ponder what they’ve said. Not ten minutes…just a second. Take a second to ponder:
Their message. – Think about what they’ve said. Could there be some truth to it? Do they have a valid point? How would you feel in their situation? These and similar questions will not only help you empathize and connect with your spouse, but they will also keep you from becoming defensive and formulating an argument too quickly.
Your response. – Once you’ve pondered the validity and importance of their message, then you’re ready to ponder your response. That’s right. You don’t need to jump in and start talking until you’ve thought about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Ask yourself, “How will it come across to my spouse?” “Could it be misread?” “Will it help, or make matters worse?” “Is there a better way to say what I want to say?”
I know all this pondering sounds like it will take a lot of time, but really it only takes a second or two to do, and it will save you hours of misunderstandings and arguments.
And now…finally…it’s your chance to speak. This brings us to the final letter to finish out our UPS communication.
There are two things you must do when you respond to your spouse…
Speak the truth. – Too many times we avoid speaking the truth. Why do we do this? Sometimes, we don’t want to upset our spouse. Other times, we’re trying to avoid conflict. And sometimes, it just seems easier not to say anything. The classic example of this is what happens when a spouse says, “Where do you want to go to eat?” A lack of truth perpetuates mental game-playing and an eventual distance between spouses, so learn to tell each other the truth.
Speak in love. – Yes, we need to be truthful with our spouse, but that does not give us a license to be brutally honest or to use the truth as a scorched-earth policy. If you speak the truth without love, you’re intentionally being hurtful and they won’t be able to hear you. Your spouse may not like what they hear, but if you deliver it with a heart and attitude of love, it will be easier for them to digest. Take some advice from Mary Poppins… “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
When you get to this point in the process, the cycle starts over with your spouse going through the UPS steps. And you continue this until you both reach some sort of resolution.
A FINAL WORD…
Writing all of this out makes it look complicated, but it’s not as complicated as it looks. Trust me. Just remember: you need to UNDERSTAND what your spouse is trying to tell you, then you need to PONDER what they said and what you want to say, and finally, you need to SPEAK truthfully and lovingly.
If you learn to do this, it will be better than having UPS deliver packages to your door!
Maybe you read the title of this post and thought, “I don’t need this post. I know my spouse.”
I’ve thought the same thing. I’ve been married for over forty years, and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on knowing my wife. But there are still times when she will say or do something that makes me think, “Who are you, and do I even know you?!”
Spouses are complex. Their situations, likes, dislikes, emotions, bodies, thoughts, and needs are continually changing. And that means if we want to know our spouse, we have to be on-going learners.
So here are a few tips and reminders (in no specific order) that will help you continue to know your spouse better.
Don’t assume you know them.
Assuming you’re an expert on your spouse is both arrogant and disrespectful. Think about it. You wouldn’t like it if you over-heard your spouse telling someone that they know you completely. Assuming you know your spouse completely will get you in trouble. And I’m telling you, the minute you assume you know them, they’re going to change something just to throw you off!
You don’t know them if you don’t listen to them.
I sit with so many couples who interrupt their spouse, complete their spouse’s sentences, and interpret what they believe their spouse is saying…but never really listen to them. No matter how well you think you know your spouse, there are things on their heart and mind that you will never know if you don’t give them a chance to speak and really listen to what they have to say.
You must listen past their words before you know them.
I have a sign hanging outside my counseling office that says: “No man is truly married until he understands every word his wife is NOT saying.”
If all you do is listen to the words your spouse is saying, you don’t really know what they’re saying. Research tells us that only 7% of what your spouse is telling you is found in their words. 38% of their message is in their tone of voice and 55% is in their nonverbal signals. So listen to more than just the words they are saying.
If they don’t say it, you don’t know it.
I know you know this, but if you’re like me, you probably need to hear it again. You can’t read your spouse’s mind. You may think you can, and you may have been together long enough to make some good educated guesses. But they are still guesses. If they haven’t said it, then you don’t really know it. (By the way…they can’t read your mind either, so don’t make them guess. Tell them clearly and lovingly what you’re thinking and feeling.)
If you don’t know, ask.
Going along with the last tip, if your spouse tells you something, and you’re not quite sure what they mean, don’t guess. Ask for clarification. Your spouse would rather have you ask them for clarification than for you to go off on an assumption that’s wrong.
Just because you know them now doesn’t ensure that you will know them later.
As I said at the beginning of this post…spouses are complex and constantly changing. Just because you know some things about them now, don’t assume those things will be the same a year from now. For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has always wanted to live near the beach. But recently I found out that she now wants to live in the mountains. There was no warning. There was no turn signal. She just changed! This is why you have to keep striving to know your spouse.
Know what they like, but know it will change.
Knowing that your spouse will change later is not an excuse to not know them now. Get to know your spouse as well as you can now. Just know that you’ll have to keep learning and adding to what you know about them.
Finally, if I could wrap all this up in one last reminder, it would be this:
Know that you don’t know all there is to know about your spouse, but know that you can know them better.
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!
When I was a child, “because I said so” never felt like a good reason to comply. That’s because there’s something in us that resists being told what to do. We would rather give the orders, than take them.
But that’s not the message of Numbers chapter 9. There, you find a picture of immediate and unquestioning obedience. When the cloud moved, the people moved; no questions asked.
Can you imagine what that would be like? You hear a knock on your door. You open the door and see a man with a clipboard who says, “It’s time.” So you pack up your entire household and set out. Twelve hours later, you pull in somewhere at the man’s direction. It appears you’ve arrived, so you unpack and set up house.
After a week or so, you’ve finally settled in and have things where you can find them. Then one Saturday morning, there’s a knock on your door. You open the door and see the same man with the same clip board who tells you, “It’s time.” So once again, you begin to pack things up and load them in the truck.
This routine continues…for the rest of your life! Sometimes you get to stay for a long time, and sometimes you just get to stay for the night. And you never know when you’re going to hear the knock on the door and face the man with the clip board saying, “It’s time.”
Can you imagine the obedience this would take? I’d like to say my life is characterized by such obedience, but I know better.
The key to such obedience is becoming convinced that obeying God…because He said so…is more beneficial that anything else you can do. (Deut. 6:3) When you become convinced of this, “because I said so,” will be enough for you.
In my last post (How Partnering Can Improve Parenting,) we looked at how improving your marriage could improve your parenting. It stressed the importance of making sure your partnering takes precedence over your parenting. (If you’ve not read that post, I encourage you to go back and read it.)
Now, we need to answer how parenting can improve partnering, and the answer is simply this…
“Your parenting should instruct your partnering.”
Yes, your partnering should take priority over your parenting, but your parenting can teach you to be a better partner. Here’s what I mean by this. If you listed the things you do for your kids, your list would look something like this…
In my last post, How Teenagers Bring Out the Worst in Their Parents, I talked abut the very difficult job of raising teenagers, and how it can effect parents.
In this post, let’s talk about how parents can bring out the best in their teens. It starts when you’re aware of your own issues of control, self-esteem, memory loss, fears, and aspirations. (Check out the previous post for more on this.)
Once you have addressed those things in yourself, there are some things you can do to bring out the best in those opinionated, strong-willed, hormonally challenged aliens we refer to as teenagers:
Some of my favorite movies (much to my wife’s dismay) are “The Matrix” trilogy of movies. They never get old to me. I can watch them over and over and still find new thing in them that I didn’t see before.
This happened a while back when I was watching “The Matrix Reloaded (2003). In this movie, the hero (Neo) has been summoned by someone who is supposedly on Neo’s side…Seraph. But when Neo gets there, Seraph begins to fight with him. When the fight is over, Neo asks Seraph why, and Seraph replies, “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.”