It’s Tuesday night at 7:00pm. You just arrived home to an empty house and you are wondering where on earth your wife is. You text her. No response. You call. No response. Finally, you heat up a frozen burrito, and then settle down to catch up on the evening news. All of a sudden you get a text from your wife filled with stressful and annoyed-looking emoji’s. She tells you she is at craft night and you were supposed to pick the kids up at 7:15pm at the neighbor’s house. You look at your phone, 7:26pm. Whoops.
Your wife is visibly annoyed (as annoyed as she can be via text) and you feel defensive because you don’t remember EVER talking about this with your wife. So, you text back by saying, “You could have at least told me you had craft night,” and then you insert an emoji with a tongue sticking out. Your wife texts back by saying, “I did tell you! Last week!” You vaguely remember. Last Thursday, after work, you were trying to relax and your wife was telling you a hundred things about her day and her week. Maybe she mentioned it and you just weren’t paying attention.
You feel a bit guilty, but decide it is your wife’s fault for not reminding you, so you blame it on her and go pick up the kids. When your wife gets home you give her the silent treatment (which you know isn’t healthy) to let her know you are frustrated at her. She gets frustrated and whines about how you never listen to her. You zone her out by looking at your phone (but you are listening, even though you don’t want to). She raises her voice and frustratingly says, “Case in point!” You are guilty, but you can’t be silent anymore. You rudely retort by saying, “You never listen either. I’ve told you a hundred times that I don’t like hard-boiled eggs and you still make them at least twice a week.” Your wife is shocked. “What? You’re upset that I MAKE YOU eggs? I don’t have to make you food, you know.” And so the conversation escalates (and covers a variety of undesirable topics) until you decide to man up and be humble.
You stand up, go to your wife, and put your arms around her. You say, “I’m sorry for not being a good listener. And for not paying more attention to details. I’m going to do better, I promise. Will you forgive me?” She turns to look into your eyes and then she kisses you and laughs. “We both can do better at listening! I’m sorry, too.” And with that, your night turns out to be a pretty good one, indeed.
Listening Can Be Learned
Listening isn’t an easy skill to learn, or develop, but the good news is that it can be learned and developed! With practice, you can become a GREAT listener, which will nurture your marriage and help you avoid dramatic nights like the one above.
A wise leader once taught the importance of communication in marriage by saying,
“Taking time to talk is essential to keep lines of communication intact. If marriage is a prime relationship in life, it deserves prime time! Yet less important appointments are often given priority, leaving only leftover moments for listening to precious partners.” (Russell M. Nelson)
Listening is important for not only the big conversations, when your spouse wants to talk about a problem or important decision, but also for the everyday, ordinary conversations (the ones that are all too easy to zone out for!).
If you want to learn to be a great listener, then try one of these five practical suggestions to help you be a better listener today.
1. Great listeners don’t interrupt, but they do ask clarifying questions.
If your husband is talking to you about his work schedule for the week, don’t interrupt him. Especially if what you have to say is totally off topic (a clear sign that you aren’t listening!). When he pauses and looks to you for a reply, wait a moment or two and then ask a clarifying question to make sure you took in the content. Something like, “So, you leave Monday evening…and when is your return flight?” Perhaps pull out your planner or your phone to jot it down and show him you are paying attention. Then he can confirm that he comes back Wednesday evening and that you are both on the same page regarding his schedule. Maybe, to really show him you care about the ordinary conversation you just had, and that you listened to what he had to say, you can respond by saying, “Great! I’m taking you to Red Robin (or your favorite restaurant) the second you get home.”
2. Great listeners don’t try and fix things.
Just watch this clip, and you’ll completely understand this point about not trying to fix things. Really, watch it. It’s hilarious!
3. Great listeners maintain eye contact.
When your wife is talking to you, look her in the eye. Also, pay attention to her body language and facial expressions. She may be telling you about how her mom’s health is failing and how she is so worried about her, but if you aren’t looking at your wife, you won’t notice the tears in her eyes, and the fact that all she needs right now is for you to hug her tight and tell her you are here for her.
4. Great listeners minimize distractions.
Don’t zone out. Try and minimize distractions. Turn off the TV or radio. Set your phone aside. Avoid looking through the fridge or pantry for food while your husband is trying to talk to you. Just sit or stand close to him, perhaps touch his elbow or hand, and give him your full attention. Oh, and always try and steal a kiss – he won’t mind those kinds of distractions. 😉
5. Great listeners respond with empathy and understanding.
Marvin J. Ashton, a great religious leader, sums up this point about great listening by saying, “Listening is more than being quiet. Listening is much more than silence. Listening requires undivided attention. The time to listen is when someone needs to be heard. The time to deal with a person with a problem is when he has the problem. The time to listen is the time when our interest and love are vital to the one who seeks our ear, our heart, our help, and our empathy. We should all increase our ability to ask comfortable questions, and then listen—intently, naturally. Listening is a tied-in part of loving.”
Learn to respond with understanding and empathy, by offering physical affection and comments such as, “I’m so sorry,” or, “Man, that really stinks.” Those simple words of understanding will help your spouse feel validated, listened to, appreciated, and cared about.
Yes, with these five simple tips you’ll see how great listening is going to start nurturing your marriage in BIG ways!
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