Did you ever have those moments with your spouse where you say something and get no response, so you assume he/she understood? Then your spouse accuses you of never telling you that information, when you clearly remember communicating it to him/her. Welcome to distracted listening, a problem that I’ve become more aware of, not just in my marriage, but in my other relationships as well.
If we gave our spouses our full attention, they would not have to repeat themselves and there would not be confusion about what was discussed. But often because of the distractions of this world, it is hard to do that. It is hard to sit and let your spouse express their feelings. If you come from a home where your parents nagged you a lot, the sound of others expressing their feelings might sound like the adults from the Peanuts. So it takes discipline and time to figure out how to connect on this level with your spouse.
Here are some ways that you can practice intentional listening in your relationships:
- Cut out all distractions. When your spouse is talking to you, make it a point to stop what you’re doing. Put away your cell phone. Turn off the television. Shut down your computer. Stop cleaning. Even cutting out those little distractions will help you focus on your spouse, but it will also show your spouse that he/she matters.
- Make eye contact. This goes along with cutting out distractions. I really like when my husband looks at me while I’m talking. It shows that he is actively listening to me, that he is engaged with what I am saying. Just look at your spouse. She’s pretty, he’s handsome, something attracted you to that person. Now’s your chance to look at him/her again!
- Repeat back what the person was saying. You may cut out all distractions. You may make eye contact. But you can still let the words your spouse is saying go in one ear and out the other. If your spouse says something, reply with, “I hear you saying…” and repeat back what you heard. Because of how you view the world, you may also interpret what your spouse is saying as a completely different message, so it’s important to voice what you got out of the conversation as well. A message to the talking spouse: make sure you don’t do all the talking. Leave space for your spouse to ask questions and to communicate his/her own opinion.
- Communicate your shortcomings. In this world, it is hard to stay focused when we talk to people. I’ll admit that I fall short of that all the time. If your spouse wants to talk and you are just not in the mood, be honest. “Hey honey, I really want to listen to you today, but I had a rough day at work. Can we continue this conversation later?” “Hey, I hear what you’re saying, but because of my past, it sounds like you’re condemning me.” You can’t be 100% focused 100% of the time, but you can be honest and share when you’re not at your best time to talk.
You may want to get to know your spouse better, but he/she doesn’t talk very much. Those are when you really need to pay attention. My husband isn’t much of a talker, but when he talks, his words are a treasure to me. His words display his heart about his job, his family, and himself. I pay attention, not just to what he is saying, but how he is saying it. Doing so helps me to see him more clearly and to love him for who he really is.
Ultimately, listening to your spouse is a reflection of how God wants us to listen to Him. We complain that God does not speak to us, but it could be that we’re not really listening to Him. God calls us to cut out all distractions and follow Him, to fix our eyes on Jesus during our walk with Him (Hebrews 12:2). When you are finished reading the Bible passage for the day, it is helpful to pray in response to the promises that God gives in His Scriptures. He speaks to us clearly through His word, and when we are still and let Him speak to us, He has such wonderful things to say.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”