Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Written By: Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart, MS, MAT
To be emotionally present and listen to your spouse with the intention of really understanding what she is feeling, thinking and saying is a stepping stone to fostering a close and connected marriage relationship. We all long to be heard, understood and have our view matter. Especially with one’s spouse.
Listening in marriage is a long lost communication trait. We tend to want to get our view across before being willing to hear our spouse. “I can’t hear you until you hear me, but you can’t hear me until I hear you” is a paraphrase from Dan Wile. It clearly states the lost battle of listening between couples. Both spouse’s desperate to be heard and understood, but neither willing to listen first. Couples, we have found, talk a lot with each other, even argue, blame and defend, but seldom listen.
Listening Skill 1: Be Emotionally Present
It is very difficult to talk and share your heart with someone you feel is not there for you and really doesn’t care. When you turn your shoulders toward your spouse, look into her eyes, and show you are interested in what she is saying, you show you are emotionally available and present to listen. Learn to listen with your full attention. That means put down your phone and video game, and don’t check your texts while you are listening. Since we are a fast paced society, we often want our spouse to ‘get to the point’ as soon as possible, loosing the art of listening.
Listening Skill 2: Don’t take notes
It is difficult to risk and be vulnerable when you feel your spouse is just taking mental notes of what they want to say. And interjecting with a rebuttal to each of your spouse’s points is one way to close your spouse’s spirit and escalate an argument. Instead, listen for the sake of understanding your spouse. You don’t have to agree with what she is saying, but rather listen to show you care and understand her perspective.
Listening Skill 3: Listen for the feeling not just content
It’s hard not to correct the accuracy or add a detail to your spouse’s story. Instead, listen to understand how your spouse feels about the situation. Not just the content. Is your wife happy, optimistic, or sad, disappointed, or angry, anxious, taken aback? Try and name the feeling associated with the event your spouse is describing. When you name how your spouse might be feeling, your spouse will walk away feeling understood, thinking, “you get me.”
Listening Skill 4: Follow with a facial expression or word
The most powerful way you can signal to your spouse that you are tracking and interested in what she is saying, is a few facial expressions such as a nod, smile, curious face and eye contact. As well as a few simple words such as “oh… hmm. I see. Wow! Really?! Then what? And what happened next?” Usually your spouse doesn’t want problem solving, advice giving, detail adding, content correcting or scolding. But rather the smile and nod that says, I am interested in you as well as in what you are saying.
Listening Skill 5: Wait to give solutions or advice
If you are listening to your spouse, then listen. Wait to give advice. Often talking out loud helps clarify thoughts, and solutions naturally arise. It is only when your spouse asks, “and what do you think about this, or what do you think I should do,” that the door for a discussion is opened. And now, with permission you can gently begin a conversation and an exchange of ideas, opinions and solutions.
Adapted from Sharon May, Ph.D., “How to Argue so your spouse will listen.” Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 2007.