Your spouse is talking to you about their day, your eyes are glued to the TV and you manage to make the occasional grunt… then the phone rings. It is one of your mates, the conversation flows and you listen to every word they say. Your spouse hears you responding animatedly, showing interest, expressing sympathy and enjoying the conversation.
The problem that many of us find in our marriage is not that we are unable to listen to our spouse. Instead our problem is we often neglect to listen to them.
In the bible it says, “To answer before listening – that is folly or sham.”
As humans, one of our greatest needs is to be listened to and to be understood and in our marriage one of the great dangers is that we fail to listen to the one we love.
Here are five characteristics of a poor listener and I must confess I have displayed all of these characteristics at one time in my marriage. None of these responses reflect good listening skills:
- There is the “advice giver”. They spend all their time trying to solve the problems of their spouse rather than listening to them.
- There is the “interrupter”. Instead of listening to what is being said we can easily be working out what we are going to say next. We should be listening with the intent to understand not the intent to reply.
- There is the “reassurer”. They jump in prematurely, before the sentence is finished and say, “it is probably not as bad as you’re making out” or “it will be better tomorrow”. When this happens too often it stops you making any real expression of your feelings, anxieties, disappointments or hurts.
- The “rationaliser” explains away what is being shared with them. “You feel bad today because the weather is so hot, there was pressure at work and our finances are up the creek”.
- Finally there is the “deflector”. Instead of commenting on the issue raised they take the conversation off at a tangent often to something that interests them.
So what makes a good listener… Let me assure you that whilst there is no such person as the perfect listener we can all seek to develop skills in listening so that we strengthen our marriages rather than undermine them.
Giving them your full attention – Communication involves words, body language, the tone of the voice and facial expression. If you do not give your spouse your undivided attentions you will miss out on what they are saying. Put the paper down, turn the mute button on or the TV off, turn and look at the person who is speaking to you and communicate to them that you are giving them your undivided attention and you love them. This works for your kids as well. Eye contact is vital, shouting from another room does not work well at communicating love.
Coping with distractions – I recently read of a lady who could not relax whilst the kitchen was dirty so she had an agreement with her husband that they would sit and talk after the kitchen was tidy so she could concentrate.
Showing an interest – If you are determined to be interested in what another is saying, you listen carefully. If you do not care you switch off. As one bloke writes, “To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other people enjoy answering”
Listening intelligently – Sometimes when people talk to us they have a deeper thought or feeling that they want to reveal. A wise listener might probe with gentle questions at the right moment. We might need to give time to allow the other to talk, do not be afraid of silences. It allows others to organise thoughts and shows our concern.
Listening uncritically – Communication is crushed by criticism… so do not do it… ever.
Acknowledging our spouses feelings – to repeat back to your spouse in your words what they have been telling you is very helpful particularly when feelings are being expressed. It might seem unnatural at first to respond by repeating what you have just been told but it can be a powerful tool in listening and building emotional intimacy.
Giving of advice only when asked – A good listener is not always trying to fix the situation. Our spouse will usually ask for advice when they want it… to start with they simply might want a listening ear (or two).
In ten years of research as to why marriages fail, Oxford sociologist Diane Vaughan reveals that there is a failure of communication. There is no substitute for effective listening and effective talking.