A few years ago, our family took a week-long vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. While we were there, my husband and I had the opportunity to take part in the adventurous sport of parasailing. If you have ever been parasailing before, you know how freeing it feels, but also how important it is to closely pay attention to your skipper and listen to his cues for when and how you are to land. He is the one watching out for you while you are high up soaring through the air as the boat pulls you along. If you do not listen closely to his cues, you will literally end up in deep water!
Listening is an important skill not only for being able to soar when you are parasailing, but for being able to soar and thrive in your marriage. If you lack effective listening skills in marriage you might just find yourself in deep water, too!
God gave us two ears and one set of lips for a reason. We need to listen more and talk less. We all have a deep desire to be known. God put that desire in our hearts. We want to be known, understood and loved for who we are. To know our spouse, we need to pay attention to who they are and actually listen to what they say. It sounds simple, but for most people, being a good listener is a skill that needs to be cultivated.
My husband and I have both worked diligently at this skill over the years. The busier our lives became, the more we realized the need to be completely present in the moment to ensure that successful communication was taking place and that our love for one another was being manifested through our focused listening to what our spouse was sharing. It has not always been easy to do and we have had our share of failed attempts, but when we take the time to listen closely and process what our spouse is sharing, our marriage indeed thrives!
There is so much chatter around us and many of us have mastered the art of tuning out what we consider chatter in our lives. Our spouse should never fall into this category! When you tune your spouse out, you not only hurt them, but you hurt yourself and you damage your marriage.
Here are five tips for improving marital listening skills:
1. Tune out distractions. Find a quiet place to communicate. Turn your cell phone off, or the ringer down. No TV in the background. Settle little ones in another room if need be. Let your children know that mom and dad need time to talk
2. STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN! Remember this? We teach our children to do this when crossing a street, but we need to train ourselves to do this when we listen! STOP whatever you are doing and pay attention to the details. LOOK your spouse in the eye – watch for non-verbal communication. When my husband looks in my eyes when I speak, my heart melts. I know he is paying attention to what I am saying. I feel loved. LISTEN with an open heart and open mind to what your spouse is saying.
3. Slow down and be fully present in the moment – heart and mind- to your spouse. It can be tempting to think about how you are going to reply while your spouse is talking, but listening is not just waiting for your turn to speak. Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Remember, your spouse wants to be known, to be understood and to be loved – by the way you communicate with them.
4. Do not interrupt or derail your spouse when they are speaking. Be respectful – let them finish their thoughts.
5. Take an interest in what your spouse is saying. Ask questions. For example, “How did that meeting go?” Or, “How are you feeling now?” Sometimes my husband actually takes notes in his phone on important things that I share with him. At first it used to annoy me, couldn’t he just remember? Then I realized this WAS his way of remembering and ensuring that he shows me that he cares. Find what works for you – and be invested!
If you want to truly love your spouse, then learn to listen and listen well. Enter the heart of your spouse and watch your love grow.
(Originally published on the For Your Marriage section of the USCCB Website)