If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit, listening is difficult. I would rather be listened to and understood than to listen to Gary. I want him to be riveted to my concerns about my day, but when he wants to offload the stresses of his, my attentions seem to wander elsewhere. Why is this? Why is listening so hard? When was the last time you listened to your mate with the sole intention of understanding their experience?
Before we get to what we can do to hone our skills, let’s explore why listening is so tricky.
Life is full and our brains are busy. Men’s brains tend to compartmentalize. When they have a full plate, they have more difficulty shifting to a space where they are attentive and available verbally. As multi-taskers, women are used to having their attention in many places at once. They, too have difficulty narrowing their focus to be fully attentive to their mate’s concerns.
Lack of Motivation/selfishness
If we face the truth about ourselves—most of us are more invested in having our mate agree with us or hear us out than in listening carefully to them. We value being understood more than understanding our mate. Proverbs 18:2 has a word of wisdom about this: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinion.”
Pride and Stubbornness
We don’t want to hear anything that goes against (or we think goes against) our own position. Also, when angry with our mate, we can stubbornly refuse to listen to their position as a form of protest or punishment.
Effort- Listening is Work
It takes setting ourselves aside for the time being and really focusing on the feelings, thoughts, and concerns of our mate.
HOW TO BECOME A LOVING LISTENER
Have the humility to recognize you do wear tinted glasses. We often think that we see things clearly; that our perspective is right and our mate’s is wrong, or at least less right. We have little awareness that our position is colored by experiences of the past and our own self-protective way of viewing an issue. To listen attentively, you will need to understand that you do filter your mate’s communication. Try to be open, acknowledging your perspective is simply that- your Doing so will allow you to hear their different viewpoint with less reactivity and dismissiveness.
Check in with your mate on their intended meaning. We often jump to conclusions about what our mate means. We interpret their behavior or words, often with a great deal of confidence that we know what they meant. The truth is, our “lens” often distorts our mate’s intended meaning. The only way to get clear about what they meant is to ask them.
My husband is in sales and travels often. For the first ten years of marriage, when he would return home from traveling and arrive home late in the evening, he would insist on unpacking his suitcase before he came to bed. I would urge him to leave it and take care of it later, knowing he was tired, but he always refused. At times I thought he was quirky and obsessive. Finally, in year ten I asked him why he did this. He told me the reason was that when he awoke in the morning, he wanted no evidence that he had been away. He wanted to feel solidly at home. Endearing, right? So much for jumping to conclusions!
Invite your mate to share their thoughts and feelings with you. Most of us are comfortable sharing our opinions about things but many of us are not so at ease sharing feelings. If you grew up in a home that didn’t welcome the expression of feelings or minimized or dismissed feelings, you may not be in touch with your own emotions and even less comfortable with those of your mate. This will require you to stretch but it is well worth it. If you are the less verbal one, inviting your mate to share their thoughts and feelings can be scary. Sometimes husbands, especially avoider types, can get easily flooded by their wife’s verbal expressions. If you are fearful this might happen, tell your mate you really want to hear what they feel and think but it would help you stay attentive if they could be briefer. Demonstrate you are receptive and available by your eye contact, body language and demeanor.
Demonstrate respect by allowing them to speak their truth. Consciously coach yourself to listen with the sole intention of understanding your partner’s world. This is the sacrificial aspect to listening. To be a loving listener, you put yourself aside for the time being and focus on your mate’s experience. Try to coach yourself to be open-hearted. If you find yourself wanting to interrupt or judge what they are saying, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your turn will come but right now you are seeking to understand
If you’re too tired or unavailable when your mate wants to talk—set a time soon thereafter when he/she may have your undivided attention. Listening is the “lubricant of love.” It, more than anything else, communicates respect (for the others unique experience), caring (I can set myself aside), and love (you are important to me and I want to take time to hear you). Try an experiment this week and listen more intentionally to your mate.
For more tips for a loving, thriving marriage check out Laura’s blog at www.laurataggart.com.