A Unique Approach to Listening and Communication
Why It Matters
There are few things as satisfying as knowing that who we are as an individual and what we have to say is valued by others. This is never truer than in a marriage. And yet, one of the most common complaints I hear from husbands and wives in counseling is that they don’t feel listened to or understood by their spouse. It doesn’t take long to realize just how important it is for them to feel that what they have to say matters.
When I ask them to explain what they would feel like if their spouse took the time to slow down and truly listen to their desires or frustrations, they almost always reply:
“I would feel loved.”Like us if you are enjoying this content.
“I would feel cherished.”
“I would feel like a priority.”
These are deeply powerful statements, which convey how important listening is to the emotional health of a marriage. Furthermore, few things will ever increase your ability to connect emotionally with your spouse, and to make them feel like a special part of your life, as does the simple act of listening. Because of this, my desire is to help you become a great listener in your marriage.
The Aim of Listening in Communication
The ultimate objective in spousal communication is not to get one’s point across, but to create an emotional environment where both members feel secure, free to be transparent and vulnerable, and like they are working together while addressing important concerns. Listening carefully to your spouse enables you to achieve all of these objectives. When you have done an effective job at listening, your spouse will also come away from conversations feeling valued, respected, and understood. Considering how important this is, let’s look a little more closely on how to listen effectively.
Say Less and Listen More
If married couples learned and applied this concept by itself, it would revolutionize their marriages. It is crucial to recognize the importance of saying less and allowing your partner to say more. I call this concept, The Art of Listening & Stretching Things Out. This simply means becoming very good at helping your spouse “expand” or “elaborate” on their thoughts and emotions for as long as needed, while you patiently and attentively listen to what is in their heart.
The key to The Art of Listening and Stretching Things Out is to:
- “Draw out” your partner’s thoughts and emotions by asking open-ended questions or using simple phrases.
- “Listen” carefully.
- “Identify” key words or statements used by your spouse that are clues to how they feel.
- “Help” them talk more about those key words or statements by asking about them.
- “Repeat” this process throughout the course of the conversation.
The great thing about this process is that it falls right into the natural course of a conversation.
For example, your spouse says, “I’m afraid we are drifting apart.” (Key Words: “afraid” and “drifting apart”). You can begin drawing out more of your partner’s thoughts and emotions with statement such as:
“Can you tell me more about why you feel afraid?”
“In what ways do you feel we are drifting apart?”
The Art of Listening & Stretching Things Out ultimately places you in a position of inquiry, and sends a clear message to your spouse that you love them and place a high value their thoughts. In turn, after you’ve listened for a while, you may just find that they are willing and ready to listen to what you have to say.
Don’t Cut Them Off!
Most people don’t enjoy being cut off while driving. They also find it deeply frustrating to be cut off in conversation. It’s no different in spousal communication. You’ll always be more effective in listening if you remember to…
“Draw out your spouse’s thoughts and give them plenty of time to respond.“
Don’t cut them off, and then start talking about what you feel is important. The objective is to listen and to help them to come away feeling that what they have to say is important to you.
John Maxwell, in his book, Be a People Person, summarized this concept well by saying, “There is a difference between hearing and listening. Listening is wanting to hear.” He also discussed the topic of charisma, defining it as the quality that draws others to us, and included a wonderful description of it given by his colleague Dan Reiland:
“Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are in making them feel good about you (Maxwell, 1994).”
When we read statements like these, it’s not difficult to see that listening is a deliberate and powerful act that has the ability to draw your spouse to you. Let’s look at what else can you do become really, really good at listening in your marriage.
I will many times tell couples to slow down when it comes to the pace of their everyday lives. And yet, I often have to remind them to do the same when it comes to their communication. Couples often make the mistake of starting a conversation and immediately developing a fast paced momentum which carries them directly into a debate-cycle or a discussion of unimportant details. As a result, they quickly bypass any opportunity to truly understand one another, and to explore the emotions that both members are experiencing.
Slowing down, therefore, means to literally slow the pace of your communication with your spouse. The aim is to allow each member time to consider what they are experiencing emotionally, to think through what they need to say, and to listen to what their spouse is saying. It additionally allows you to utilize The Art of Listening and Stretching Things Out, and moreover enjoy simply being together.
Here are a few things you can do to slow things down:
- Begin a conversation with a statement such as, “I really want to know how you’re feeling. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
- Calmly say, “Let’s Slow Down,” the moment you realize a conversation is falling apart and either of you is beginning to tune out emotionally.
- If your spouse is afraid you are going to withdraw from the conversation, assure them by saying, “I’m still here. I’m not leaving. Let’s just take a minute to calm down before we keep talking.”
- Repair the conversation and your emotional connection by taking a few minutes to just sit silently and “be” together. This is a great time to affirm you are still emotionally present by either holding your spouse’s hand, placing your arm around their shoulder, or simply sitting close to them as you sit silently together.
So far we’ve covered a few vital concepts on how to listen effectively in your marriage, however, there are a few last points I want to drive home that you can use.
Always Be Aware of the Following
My hope is that you come away from reading this article realizing being a really great listener is not that hard. If you are willing to change your listening patterns, and consistently apply what we’ve discussed so far, you will undoubtedly find yourself connecting to a greater degree with your spouse.
If you desire to take your listening and communication abilities to an even higher level, you’ll want to master the following:
- Tone: You can never go wrong with a calm and gentle tone. It allows you to convey a sense of caring and affection, and to be firm when needed without coming across as rude, arrogant, or controlling. A calm and gentle tone further enables your spouse to continue listening to what you have to say and helps prevent them from becoming defensive or withdrawn.
- Body Language: Always show with your body posture and facial expressions that you are focused and listening to what is being said. Furthermore, pay close attention to your spouse’s body language in order to key into their emotions. You can use this information while practicing The Art of Listening and Stretching Things Out.
- Touch: A simple gesture can often convey more than your words ever will. Sitting close to your spouse, a gentle touch on their knee, and holding their hand are all small ways to communicate your desire to listen and to connect with them emotionally.
Being a really, really good listener in your marriage is completely possible for both husbands and wives. Never buy into the stigma that men are horrible at listening and communicating, and that only women know how to be affectionate. The reality is that God has given both an exceptional capacity to listen to and love their spouse.
Listening has always been more a matter of desire and will than ability. Sometimes we don’t feel like listening to our spouse, but it doesn’t matter. Choose to be mature, to ask God to help you have a heart that is willing to listen, and to thereafter pay close attention to what your spouse has to say. In the end, they will not only recognize your efforts, but they will come away feeling loved and cherished all because you decided to listen.
Maxwell, J.C. (1994). Be a people person. Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing.
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