My husband has little patience for really listening to me. He’ll sit and nod his head, but when I ask him what I said, he can never repeat it. I have such a need to connect with him yet he seems not to have the same need. What can I do to help him actively listen to me, and me to him?
Being completely listened to and understood is one of the highest forms of love, so I understand why this is important to you. In fact, Dr. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote that communication is the most important skill in life and that most people listen not with the intent to understand, but with the intent to reply. How true!
Sadly, as you share your story, I imagine myself—not at my best moments—listening half-heartedly to my wife, daydreaming about something else, and thereby dismissing her feelings. I imagine her sensing her words were of no value to me—when that’s not what is truly in my heart.
Listening—and more importantly, hearing and understanding your mate—are skills you dare not overlook. When you listen, you convey honor to the speaker and gain invaluable information. This information could be a deciding factor in maintaining your connection to your mate.
I’m reminded of the biblical story of Samuel. As a boy, he was mentored by Eli. Several times Samuel heard a voice calling his name. He thought Eli was calling him but it was God. God kept pursuing Samuel, so Eli instructed Samuel to say, when he heard God’s voice, “Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen” (1 Samuel 3:10).
I’m struck by the phrase ready to listen. This gets to several important aspects of listening:
*Attending: We must prepare our hearts for listening, giving someone our full attention;
*Attuning: We must ensure that we are “on the same page”’ with our mate;
*Attaching: We must ensure that we are really connected to our mate and care about what he or she is saying.
Clearly Samuel attended to God; he wanted to hear what God had to say. He was attuned not only to Eli, but to God. He was receptive to hearing what was said. Finally, Samuel was attached to Eli and God. He cared about them and wanted to obey the words spoken to him. Samuel was, as the Scripture says, “ready to listen.”
Listening is an active process—thus the phrase active listening. And active listening in marriage is not an option. It’s essential to a healthy relationship. Here are a few additional thoughts about active listening:
Refine the fine art of listening. Turn off electronics and reserve time to attend to your mate. Listen with an open heart, hearing what is there as opposed to what you might want to hear.
Listen for what is not being said. Develop the skill of drawing out your mate. They have more to say but will only say it if they feel safe and believe you truly want to know what they are thinking.
Listen for places of pain. Hidden beneath surface words may be pockets of hurt. You can be each other’s primary support, advocate, and minister of health. You can be the one your mate turns to when confused and needing help making a tough decision. Learn to “be with” your mate, offering counsel sparingly and only if requested.
Practice repeatedly. Listening is not an art learned once, but rather learned again and again. Coach each other, refining your ability to attend, attune, and attach. Empathy and active listening are skills that can be mastered, but only with practice.
Celebrate the intimacy active listening creates. Active listening allows you to see into each other’s lives. While this kind of intimacy can be frightening at first, the joys of connection and love far outweigh any risks of transparency.
In summary, we were made for connection and relationship. This cannot occur without transparency and vulnerability. There are no shortcuts. We must know ourselves and each other and be intentional about creating and maintaining this profound, wonderful connection. It’s worth the effort!