Why Good Listeners Make Better Spouses: The Art of Sacred Listening

God demonstrated the power of words by speaking the universe into existence ex nihilo—making something from nothing. He set humanity apart from all other created beings by giving us the gift of speech. Because we are made in God’s image, we too have the capacity to use words for life-giving, creative purposes.

Unfortunately, our use of language sometimes falls woefully short of God’s intention. Husbands and wives can spend hours talking and not move one inch closer to really loving, appreciating, or understanding each other. Author Ann Voskamp believes, “Love isn’t a function of communication so much as Love’s a function of communion.” One of the ways husbands and wives can move beyond simple communication into a place of intimate communion is when they open their hearts to God and each other through the act of sacred, or spiritual, listening.

Unlike hearing, sacred listening doesn’t happen automatically.

Adam McHugh writes in The Listening Life, “Hearing is an act of the senses, but listening is an act of the will.… Listening is about more than straining to hear voices; it’s about preparing the conditions of our heart, cultivating an openness inside us. In this way, listening is a posture, one of availability and surrender.”

In order to cultivate this kind of relational spaciousness with our spouses, we have to push through external and internal barriers and choose to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually present. When we succeed, we impart value and worth to our spouses, which is healing in and of itself. Listening then becomes “a fundamental means by which we … fulfill the call to honor others above ourselves.”

But that’s not all. As we honor our spouses by listening, our reactions to their stories sometimes reveal areas of resistance and sin within us. Sacred listening gives the Holy Spirit room to bring conviction, thus transforming the one speaking and the one listening. As we grow in our willingness and ability to listen to each other, our hearts will soften and our love will grow exponentially.

In our current culture, communication options are ubiquitous.

We can reach out and connect in a myriad of ways, including Skype, email, or text. Information bombards us from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep and even then, more than 65 percent of us keep our devices within an arm’s length of our beds. Disclaimer: I enjoy and rely on social media. It allows me to communicate efficiently and effectively. That said, though technology offers us unprecedented opportunities to share information, it can sometimes make it more difficult for us to truly listen to each other.

The next time you’re in a public place, pay attention to how many couples are “alone together”: physically present but emotionally distracted.Click To Tweet

We now accept that our real-life conversations might be interrupted by a text from the boss, an invitation to FaceTime with our offspring, or a trending hashtag. Technology has trained us to be impatient (slow Internet is inexcusable), not to prattle on (why take 200 characters when 140 will do?), and to value breadth over depth.

 Numerous studies have shown that the average adult spends approximately ninety minutes a day engaged in leisure activities online.  If you’re spending that much time every day online, “there’s got to be someplace you’re not. And that someplace you’re not is often with your family and friends.”3 Technology has hoodwinked us into believing that virtual face time will satisfy our relational needs more fully than actual face time. But does it? We should all be routinely asking ourselves if technology is serving us—or if we’re serving it.

Why does self-awareness matter in marriage communication?

In order for us to hone our listening skills, we need to have a basic understanding of who we are and how that affects our spouses. For example, Christopher and I are tenacious, determined, and at times impatient. We are learning to live in faith but still tend to doubt and fear. I have unrealistically high expectations and get disappointed easily. He battles shame.

Here’s how those realities make it difficult for us to listen to each other as we’re planning our vacation. We successfully block off two weeks. I desperately want to go someplace beautiful near a large body of water. I have our financial constraints in the back of my mind, but they are in the way back, behind the boxes of Christmas ornaments in the attic. After far too many hours searching on the Internet, I find the perfect house with lots of light, a cook’s kitchen, and a water view. Christopher inevitably believes it’s too expensive and begins his own search. He comes up with a rustic cabin that sleeps eight and is suspiciously cheap. Cheap is his love language. As a compromise, we divide our vacation between those two sites.

We arrive at the rustic cabin and immediately realize the online description failed to disclose a few key details. While putting away my suitcase, I discover a hole in the exterior bedroom wall. This increases the airflow, which is important because the windows are nailed shut, but becomes slightly disconcerting after the sun goes down. The well-stocked kitchen includes a bottle opener, a cheese grater, and a very dull knife. To Christopher’s credit, there is a lovely little brook at the edge of the property.

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What does all this have to do with self-awareness and listening? Lots.

Until our fourth vacation, we didn’t understand how our failure to listen to each other complicated everything. Christopher’s fear of going over budget caused so much static that he could not hear my desperate need to escape our gritty urban life for a few weeks. I was not expecting a four-star hotel on Maui, but I was pushing our budget beyond his comfort level. My desires drowned out his legitimate concerns. We both lacked sufficient self-awareness to realize how we were missing and disrespecting each other.

Self-awareness means that we see our sin patterns, are grieved by them, and work to overcome them. It means we acknowledge our limitations and their cost to our spouses. To be self-aware is also to admit that we can’t get past our sin and brokenness by sheer determination or intellectual prowess; we need Jesus. If you don’t know what those areas of sin and brokenness are or how they influence your relationship, go ahead and ask your spouse—but not until you’re ready to hear the answer.

Excerpted from Making Marriage Beautiful ©2018 by Dorothy Greco. Used by permission of David C Cook. May not be downloaded or further reproduced. All rights reserved.

To download chapter one of Making Marriage Beautiful, please visit Dorothy’s site: http://www.dorothygreco.com/my-book/

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