I thought I was a great listener. Then I got married.
Funny how marriage has a way of exposing your shortcomings and bad habits. What about you? Do you listen well?
Here are a few of the telltale signs you might be struggling:
- You interrupt when your spouse is still speaking.
- You finish your spouse’s sentences.
- When confronted, you are quick to defend your position.
- You explain yourself ad nauseam.
- You give an answer before hearing the speaker out.
- In a conflict, you focus more on how to fix your own hurt than that of your spouse.
- You look for loopholes in your spouse’s argument so you can point out where he/she is wrong.
- You get easily distracted by your own thoughts in a conversation.
- You find yourself tuning out when the topic of conversation is boring.
- You get “emotionally hooked” on certain words you find hurtful or offensive.
Truth be told, I do all of these. It’s embarrassing to admit but I commit at least one of these on a regular basis.
Tune into the Message
If listening is not your strong suit, you’re not alone. In fact, communication is one of the top 3 areas of conflict in a marriage (the other two being sex and money). Which means we all struggle with it on various levels. (If you haven’t read my first post on How to Stay Fit in Your Marriage, click here)
Good communication starts with listening.
But did you know that you’re still communicating, even when you’re not listening?
You’re sending your spouse a message when you don’t listen.
Messages like, “You’re not a priority”, “Your words aren’t important”, “My opinion matters more”, and “I don’t value your thoughts or feelings”.
When you don’t listen well, intimacy can tank. Conflict arises. You can easily misinterpret your spouse’s words resulting in assumptions, frustration, and hurt. This can lead to mistrust, tension, defensiveness, and greater conflict. If you want transparency and vulnerability in your marriage, you must listen first!
Ask the why behind the what
It took me a long time to finally see the damage I was doing. So I tried to interrupt less, be more mindful, put a hand over my mouth, memorize Bible verses, and read articles on listening. I tried, but miserably failed to gain significant change in my behavior.
Trying is great but it can only last so long. Focusing your energy on changing your behavior will only get you so far. If I want to see lasting change in an area of weakness, I need the power of God in my life.
Instead of focusing on what needs to change, I need to understand why God wants me to change. God doesn’t want to just change our behavior. He wants to change our hearts.
My issue with listening is rooted in an intense need to be heard and understood. I feel this pressing urge to explain that my heart is good even when my behavior is bad. Couple this with a tendency toward shame, self-protection, and sassiness and I’m in for a rocky road of conflict.
Learning how to be a good listener starts with the heart. For me, it means asking God to give me the strength and power to deal with my issues of shame and resist the temptation to defend myself when conflict arises. It means setting aside your own hurt and agenda. And it means keeping our ears open and our mouths shut.
Keep it Shut
I like to talk. Maybe too much. I have no problem filling space with words (must be the writer in me). But it’s much easier to voice my own opinion, hurts, frustrations, and feelings than it is to listen to my spouse talk about his.
One of my biggest barriers to listening is keeping my ears open and my mouth shut. Often I am too focused on getting a word in or defending my position – even if it means hurting my spouse in the process.
Most of us should listen more and talk less. Have you ever noticed that the one doing most of the talking in a conflict is usually the one in the wrong?
Proverbs 10:19 “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”
It’s hard to listen if you’re talking. You’re likely to miss the point your spouse is trying to make, not to mention how you’ve contributed to their hurt.
Proverbs 18:2 “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
Proverbs 2:2 “Make your ear attentive to wisdom and incline your heart to understanding.”
No words may be better than any words at all. Silence is powerful. It provides space for your spouse to share and time for your ears to hear. It also provides opportunity for understanding. Win your spouse over by your respectful behavior instead of your many words and solid arguments. It’s not about fighting for your rights. The point is to build intimacy, mutual understanding, and love.
Practice Active Listening
But don’t be fooled. Listening is not a passive activity! It’s more than just keeping your mouth shut until the other person is done talking.
Active listening is a tool many therapists discuss during premarital counseling. It involves repeating back what has been said in order to verify that the correct message has been heard and your spouse feels understood. If while you are “listening” you are thinking about your day, your rebuttal, or looking for loopholes in your spouse’s argument, you are not really listening. While you may be good at multitasking, giving your spouse your full attention shows love and respect. Active listening requires you to not only track with the words your spouse is saying, but also understand the message he or she is trying to communicate. Effective listening is accomplished only when your spouse feels heard and understood.
So how can you train yourself in the exercise of listening? Here are a few takeaways to consider:
Understand the why behind the what. Ask God to show you why He wants you to change and ask Him for the power to do so.
Prepare yourself to listen. Choose times when you are not distracted, exhausted, or emotional to have important conversations with your spouse. There is nothing wrong with scheduling time to work things out!
Focus on what your spouse is saying rather than what you are thinking.
Practice empathy. As your spouse is communicating, put yourself in his or her shoes and try to understand the situation from their perspective.
Fight the urge to object or interject your own voice or opinion. If it helps, pretend there is a talking stick and only one of you can talk at a time!
If you do speak, ask open ended questions to help you better understand what your spouse is trying to convey. Questions like “What do you mean by…” or “How does that make you feel?” give the speaker the chance to explain his or her feelings or restate their position if it is not clear.
Intimacy and conflict resolution hinge on listening. So take the time to listen to your spouse today!
Want more ways to stay fit in your marriage? Check out some of my posts below!