So, does your husband listen to you?
I know that can be a loaded question! At the base of much marital conflict there is an issue of not listening well to each other. More than that, couples often struggle with giving the time and attention required to really hear what their spouse is saying. Want to make a wife happy? Give her a husband who devotes focused time listening to her - hearing her heart, her hopes, and her dreams...not to mention her frustrations. Of course, the same is true for our husbands.
We are all drawn to those who demonstrate their care and concern by listening! <<Tweet This
Many couples will say the reason they're coming to counseling is to work on their communications. Ironically, both husband and wife can clearly articulate to me in counseling what their needs and complaints are. That’s a very high-level communication skill: to express needs and frustrations. Consequently, the problem seems to lie in another domain! The problem isn’t communicating, so much as it is the ability to listen without getting upset, changing the subject, redirecting what the spouse is saying, etc. Put more simply the problem is the inability or refusal to listen at all!
When you listen do you hear? <<Tweet This
I'm going to do a series of articles about the fine art of listening. Every relationship stands to undergo vast improvement from a simple listening exercise. If your marriage is really troubled due to addictions, infidelity, or abuse then this is definitely not a quick fix! I still suggest you try this out, but put it to the test in a simpler playing field like maybe with a child, co-worker, sibling, or neighbor. (If your relationship is in recovery regardless of addictions and other issues, this exercise does work.)
Here’s an excellent listening exercise:
Don't announce what you're doing and make sure you are in a relaxed state of mind. In relationships, timing can be crucial!
1. Listen to your spouse for at least 10 minutes without interrupting. No questions. What you may think is showing interest can feel intrusive or controlling to the other person. Just practice active listening.
Active listening means that you're giving the other person your full attention, looking them in the eye, nodding, smiling, or shaking your head when it seems appropriate.
2. Then reflect back to your spouse the content of what they’ve been saying. Be very careful at this juncture to restate exactly what they said. Don’t do any editing, tailoring…just what they said. If your spouse says they had a very tough day just say, "Sorry, hon, sounds like you had a very tough day." If you minimize or maximize what was said your spouse may not feel heard. A good listener doesn't add or subtract from what is being said and does not reframe the conversation in a better or worse light.
3. If it seems helpful or prudent, validate your spouse by saying something affirming like, "That must have been really hard...exciting...frustrating...exhausting,” etc. If validation seems too hard, just repeat back to them what they said. For example, "So your boss really gave you the credit for a change!"
The point in this exercise is that the listener is setting themselves aside to really, truly hear the speaker; the way a friend or co-worker might listen. As it turns out, we all can communicate and even listen far better than we practice at home!
Do you want more influence in any particular relationship?
In Stephen R. Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, he says that when we permit others to influence us, then they will in turn permit us to influence them. That's the whole point of giving our focused attention to really hear what our loved one is saying. The message is: you're important. You matter to me. What you have to say is valuable. Listening to our loved ones is an investment in the relationship. Like most investments, what I reap is more than what I sowed. Yes, sowing listening, and focused attention comes back to me with multiplied interest.
I highly recommend that you practice this focused kind of listening in the next 24 hours after reading this. You may be completely surprised to see the results. You'll never know if you don't try. It only takes 10 minutes.
Let us know if you’ve had any success in the comments.
Next month I'll continue to take a look at the power of listening!
Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith.Click here to contact us.