One of my colleagues died during my last year at Children's Hospital, having served on our university medical faculty for more than twenty-five years. During his tenure as a professor, he had earned
"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." James 1:19
We all long to be heard, understood and have our views matter. Especially within a marriage. To be emotionally present and listen to your spouse with the intention of really understanding what he or she is feeling, thinking and saying is a stepping stone to fostering a close and connected marital relationship.
Listening in marriage is a long-lost communication skill. We tend to want to get our viewpoint across before being willing to hear our spouse. "I can't hear you until you hear me, but you can't hear me until I hear you" is a paraphrase from author and marriage therapist, Dan Wile. Couples may talk a lot with each other, even argue, blame and defend, but seldom actually listen.
Listening Skill 1: Be emotionally present
It is very difficult to talk and share your heart with someone you feel is not "all there" for you. When you turn your shoulders toward your spouse, look into his or her eyes, and show you are interested in what is being said, you show you are emotionally available and present to listen. Learn to listen with your full attention. That means put down your phone and don't check your texts.
Listening Skill 2: Don't be thinking of your rebuttal
It is difficult to risk and be vulnerable when you feel your spouse is just taking mental notes of what they're wanting to say. And interjecting with a rebuttal to each of your spouse's points is one sure way to close down their spirit and escalate an argument. Instead, listen solely for the sake of understanding your spouse. You don't have to agree with everything being said, but listen to show you care and are trying to understand their perspective.
Listening Skill 3: Listen for the feeling, not just the words
Sometimes it's hard not to want to correct the accuracy of what's being said, or add a missing detail to your spouse's story. But instead, try hard to listen and understand how your spouse is feeling. Is he or she happy and optimistic? Or sad, disappointed, angry, anxious? Try and name the feeling associated with what is being discussed. If you can do that, your spouse is likely to walk away feeling understood; thinking, "you get me."
Listening Skill 4: Follow with a facial expression or word
The most powerful way you can signal to your spouse that you are "tracking" and interested in what is being said, is to add a few facial expressions into the conversation, such as a nod, smile, curious face or enhanced eye contact; as well as a few simple words such as, "Oh… I see. Really? And what happened next?"
Rarely does your spouse want problem solving, advice giving, detail adding, content correcting or scolding. But rather, what would almost always be appreciated is the smile and nod that says, I am interested in you as well as in what you are saying.
Listening Skill 5: Wait before giving solutions or advice
If you are listening to your spouse, then listen. Wait to give advice. Often, talking out loud helps to clarify one's thoughts, and solutions may naturally arise. It is only when your spouse asks, "What do you think about this?" or "What should I do?" that the door for your advice is opened. And then you can gently begin an exchange of ideas, opinions and solutions.