Listening is an important attribute for any successful relationship. It is a critical one for marriage. Opening your heart to your spouse requires listening well. And, let’s face it…this can be easier said than done!
Listening requires focus. Sometimes, it requires a lot of focus.
Life is busy. With so many different issues, obligations, devices, and responsibilities, chores, kids, bills, the yard, work, and people pulling at us from every direction, it can be difficult to slow down and truly listen to one another.
Listening can be pleasant, but sometimes it’s downright hard. Look, I can’t stress this enough – – to have a healthy, thriving marriage, it’s critical to truly learn to listen to your spouse with focus, with intensity, and with true interest. Here are a few ways to help you when it comes to listening well to your husband or wife:
1. Listen through compassion.
What do I mean be this? I mean, when you listen with compassion it is as if you are putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes – seeing things through their eyes. Whether you’re trying to resolve a conflict or just simply listening to your spouse talk about their day, it’s beneficial to both of you to listen with compassion when your spouse speaks to you. For you, it gives you a window into their world and their perspective. For your spouse, knowing that you’re listening in such a way helps them feel secure.
Maybe your spouse has had a tough day at work or difficulty with your son and they just need to talk…to talk it out…to get it out.
Instead of switching your mind off while they talk, try to see the situation, or their hurt and frustration through their eyes.
Just this week a mom of 5 called me to say how things at home were going. She talked about work struggles, a daughter who is off at college for the first time this fall, and a sick mother…and then, she told me how amazing her husband has been at just being present for her and listening through it all.
“We are going through a lot right now and I know it would be easy for him to get numb to it all. But, he hasn’t. Lately I’ve unloaded on him a lot and he is always there ready to listen and to empathize with me.”
2. Listen for feeling.
I am a very emotional person. I cry at movies. I often get mad at all of the political crazy happening in our world. Sometimes all it takes is for me to walk through our house past a picture of the girls from earlier years and, I literally start crying just looking at those pics and wondering where time has gone! I’m an emotional man.
So, when Amy talks with me about something, particularly an issue that is out of my control, I get emotional – I want to solve her problems for her fast. I want to make everything okay.
There too are times when Amy needs to talk with me about something—especially if it’s something hard—and it’s easy to get wrapped up and carried away by my own emotions on the topic.
I know I have to keep working at times to hit pause on my emotions and on my way of processing things, and instead, take a minute to listen for what Amy might be feeling. This type of intentional listening goes hand-in-hand with point #1 of: Listening with compassion. Once I better understand what Amy is saying and feeling—whether it’s anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, or excitement—I have to then adjust my response based on her emotional state. Because you know this to be true – when emotions get out of check, the conversation can go south fast!
3. Listen using eyes.
If you’ve ever seen me talk on a stage anywhere, you know I use my hands. Actually, I get asked all the time: “What’s up with those hands?” When you’re talking with your wife or husband, those little gestures and your body language make all the difference. Men – if your wife is trying to have a conversation with you and she’s having a hard time because she is competing with the TV, or the ball game that is on…brother, YOU ARE BLOWING IT!
Turn down the TV, turn off the game, turn towards here, make a body gesture in her direction, give her eye contact and LISTEN – – LISTEN USING YOUR EYES! Such a simple gesture will say: “I care about what you are saying.
4. Listen with love.
Listening doesn’t always mean you agree. Every married person understands this. A divorced dad told me this week:
“Things got really bad and it turned into us just screaming at one another. What is really heart breaking – I still love her. I will always love her. How weird it is when I think about it – I love her but my actions didn’t always show it.”
There are times when marriage just doesn’t make it. But, there are times too when marriage could have won in the end, but didn’t, because people chose to act or respond or express themselves through anger, rage, and resentfulness rather than love. Here’s a husband and father who no longer lives with the wife and who is admitting that, in part, the reason it all fell apart was because he responded to those tough moments in anger rather than through love.
Easier said that done, I know! Just because I say, “Love someone when you’re fighting,” doesn’t mean that the plate throwing will just automatically stop. This is a principal you have to be settled on and committed to LONG BEFORE the fighting begins. You have to be steadied in the commitment BEFORE the conflict arises. So, this one is really about preparation – – about you telling yourself:
“I will not respond in a heated way. Instead, I will listen and walk through this in love. Because, I love this person and I want this to be RIGHT, I want to respond RIGHT, and I want to listen RIGHT!
A great exercise just might be for you and your spouse to get a night out. Go eat, dance, have coffee, do what you love to do together and at some point during the night, talk about exactly this – about listening with love. Be real, be vulnerable, and make a commitment with and to one another that, the next time conflict arises, and it will arise, you both will work really hard to push past the pride-driven response to win, and instead listen with love.
The hope is, that the more you work to do exactly this, the better the two of you will get at handling conflict and at growing your marriage in healthy, life-long committed ways that works!