“When you’re out and about today, would you stop by the grocery store and pick up milk, baking soda, oatmeal, and a few apples?” Julie asked.
“No problem,” said Mike, heading out the door. Twenty minutes later, Mike stood in the local grocery store, trying to remember what Julie had asked him to buy.
“Why don’t you ever listen to me?” Julie asked when Mike handed her the bag filled with milk, bread, ice cream, and potatoes.
“At least I remembered the milk,” said Mike.
“And your ice cream,” said Julie, walking out the door and slamming it behind her.
Mike had heard, but he hadn’t really listened. We all do it. It seems simple enough, but at times all of us have trouble really listening. Listening means stopping what you’re doing, looking at your spouse, and truly hearing each word.
The number one complaint from wives who divorce their husbands is that their husbands don’t listen to them or take them seriously. So guys, put down your newspapers and turn off your television sets. If you don’t learn to listen, you might be the next statistic.
Part of the problem with listening is that men and women are wired differently. Most men like to get right to the point, and if the point isn’t made in the first three sentences, their minds tend to wander. So wives can help us guys a lot by doing what most newspaper articles do: summarize the major points of the story in the first paragraph. Tell us who, what, where, and when in the first few sentences. Then follow with the little details.
When you’re talking to your husband, start with three sentences and then stop. Follow up with a question like, “What do you think of that?” “Why is this happening?” or “What should I do next?”
Wait patiently for a response and then listen without interruption until he’s finished talking. Then offer three more sentences and a few more questions. When he’s not feeling overwhelmed by too much information, a man will usually be more responsive.
It’s important for men to realize that our wives yearn to connect with us. To connect often means to talk, if we don’t listen and talk to our wives, they’ll think we don’t care about what they’re saying. If this continues, they might even begin to believe that since we don’t care about what they’re saying, we don’t care about them.
If you don’t listen, your partner might stop talking. She might grow silent and withdrawn, disconnecting from you completely. Really listening is an intimate activity. The more you listen, the more your partner will open his heart to you. As you spend time talking and listening to one another, the two of you will grow closer and begin to build a healthy, thriving relationship. It is through talking and listening that the two of you can become emotionally one.
Remember when you were dating? You would sit for hours, talking and listening and basking in the glow of each other. You were quick to hear and slow to speak. You wanted to learn more about each other, so you clung to every word and were excited by all that you heard. You can return to that time. All you need to do is listen.
You must listen for more than just words. Listen to the tone of voice. Listen for the mood. Listen to her needs and fears and hopes and hurts. Start by getting rid of your preconceived notions. Listen as if you have just met. You are not the same person as when the two of you first met, and neither is your spouse. There is so much more to learn. Listen with young, fresh ears. You might be surprised by what you will hear.
Thousands of couples come to my office for help, some married a year or two and others who have just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. I often spend time listening to the husband and wife separately from one another. I listen carefully, asking questions to dig deeper and clarify what I’m hearing. When I bring the two together to talk about what I’ve heard, it’s not unusual for the husband or wife to lean forward and ask, “How did you know that about my partner?”
“I listen very closely,” is my usual reply.
William Shakespeare writes of “the disease of not listening.” This is an excellent metaphor, for a disease can be deadly either physically, emotionally, or maritally. If an oncologist said I had cancer, he would have my attention. If he said, “Do such and such, or you will not survive,” you can bet that I would do whatever he said.
Not listening is a relationship disease. It can kill your love and marriage. Millions of relationships have already died from this disease, and what is so sad is that it is completely curable. Many of us have this disease and we don’t even know it. The disease can eat away at your marriage while you move through your life naively unaware that danger is just around the corner. There is good news, though. The cure is as simple as three little words:
Using this simple solution you can block the disease of not listening, strengthen your relationship, and save your marriage.
Start today and listen carefully to your spouse. You will be amazed at how quickly this simple rule will bring a sparkle to his eye.
Copyright © 2006, Dr. Steve Stephens, Used with permission.
Dr. Steve Stephens is a licensed psychogist, marriage and family counselor, radio host, seminar speaker and author of nine books. His best-selling Lists to Live By series, compiled with John Van Diest and Alice Gray, has sold more than 600,000 copies. He lives in Clackamas, Oregon, with his wife and their three children, where he also serves as president of Every Marriage Matters.