When you read the word “listening,” what images come to mind? When you read the word “hearing,” what images come to mind? Are there differences between the two?
Hearing is basically to gain content or information for your own purposes. Listening has a different connotation. Listening is caring for or being empathetic toward the person who is speaking. Hearing is focused more on what is going on inside of you. Listening is about trying to understand the feelings of the other person. You are listening for their sake.
Let’s think about listening in three different ways…
- Listening means that when your spouse is speaking you are not thinking about what you are going to say as soon as he/she stops. Often times while our spouse is talking we are formulating our response rather than understanding what is being said. Checkout Proverbs 18:3; James 1:19.
- Listening can also mean that you are completely accepting what is being said without judging what he/she is saying or how he/she says it. You mail fail to hear the message if you are thinking that you don’t like your spouse’s tone of voice or the words they are using. Often times we react on the spot to the tone and totally miss what is being communicated. Listening is about understanding.
- Listening means being able to repeat what your spouse has said and what you think he/she was feeling while speaking to you. Real listening implies an interest in your spouse’s feelings and opinions and an attempt to understand them from their perspective.
Listening is a skill. I am convinced that it is a learned discipline. Consider the uses of the word “hear” in the Bible. It does not refer to simply an auditory response but the idea of paying heed. When we listen to our spouses we pay heed to what they are saying. Essentially we tune in to the right frequency.
Think about it… listeners really control conversation. A good listener can give direction and guide the flow of conversation by the statements they make and by the questions they ask.
Here are a few ideas…
- “That’s an interesting thought… Can you tell me a bit more about how that will…”
- “Does that mean…?”
- If I understand what you are saying then…”
We know from life experiences that every message has three components: 1) the actual content; 2) the tone of voice; 3) the nonverbal communication. It is common to send mixed-messages when we are talking with our spouses. Yet all three of these must work together if communication is to be most effective.
Great communication leads to deeper intimacy. As communication occurs it leads to trust. And trust is developed through risk (sharing something personal). When we begin to develop trust we are willing to take risks with our spouse and we become more vulnerable. And as they respond with faithfulness then it yields deeper trust which leads to greater risk which yields great vulnerability and that process is what deepens intimacy in our relationships. The greatest challenge for most of us regarding great communication with our spouses is not that we don’t want it but that we tend to struggle with some common barriers.
Here are five common barriers to communicating in your marriage or any relationship for that matter.
- Sometimes we are defensive. As my spouse is sharing and I become busy with creating an excuse, or a rebuttal or an exception to whatever they are saying and I miss the message.
- Sometimes we develop a premature conclusion… “hear we go again… I know what you are going to say…”
- Sometimes we read into our spouses words our own expectations or our own sense of guilt.
- Sometimes we rehearse our responses. I prepare ahead of time of exactly how the conversation will go. He said… she said…
- Sometimes we respond to explosive words. This happened in our marriage last evening and I gave an explosive response. When this happens it hooks us into what many call a negative defensive response. Not only do we react to these but we use these as well that makes it difficult for our spouse to listen, don’t we. I good idea is to create two lists individually as husband and wife. List one: what are the explosive words that set you off? List two: What are the explosive words you use that sets your spouse off? Why do we use these? Patterns. But not all defensiveness is expressed. Sometimes we agree on the outside but on the inside we feel just the opposite. That doesn’t help communication, does it? Check out Proverbs 13:18; 23:12; 25:12; 28:13.
So what should we do? What can we do to make it better. Here are five suggestions to improve the listening and communication for husbands and wives.
- Listen with empathy. We need to both care and see the situation from our spouse’s perspective. You may not like or agree with what is being said, but as you listen you will realize that their feelings are real. Romans 12:15
- Listen with openness. Selective listening or defensive listening is not an effective approach. Open listening with openness means discovering how the other person’s point of view makes sense to you. How do you do this? We must listen to all that is being shared without judging.
- Listen with awareness. Be aware what the other person says and how it compares with the facts. Is the message consistent? If not, clarify.
- Understand what you feel about your spouse. How we view our spouses affects how we listen to them. Our spouse’s communication is colored by how we view them. This can be shaped by our past or patterns or even our own defensiveness..
- Listen with your ears, your eyes, and your body. Concentrate on the person and the message… give undivided attention. When we do this, we listen with our C.O.R.E.
- Clarify what was said.
- Observe body language, emotion, and tone of voice.
- Reflect on what the proper and healthiest response might be.
- Examine how your response will be received.
How has the gift of listening impacted your marriage? What am I missing?