My pastor’s sermon this Sunday leveled me. He was teaching from the verse in James about being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, and how much of the conflict in our lives comes from a failure to follow this advice.
As The Youths say these days: “it me.”
My blessing and my curse is that I’m a hyper-communicative, hyperactive, hyper-emotional guy. These are good traits for a freelance writer to be. They do not, unfortunately, always translate into being good at relationships though. In my closest relationships – especially my marriage – my communication gift = “I always know best,” my high energy levels = “I will talk over you when I’m feeling strongly about something” and my emotional wiring = “I will always be feeling strongly about something.”
So … quick to listen? Nope. Slow to speak? Nooooope. Slow to become angry? Oh man, I wish.
There are few things more destructive to a marriage than a partner who doesn’t listen to their spouse. When a husband or wife feel unheard over time they will shut down their most intimate and vulnerable needs, desires, and feelings, and eventually find a new relationship for them to exist in – maybe with a coworker, or understanding friend, or old acquaintance they reconnected with online but didn’t tell their spouse about …
Listening matters. Listening says “your needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires are just as important as mine.” And to be clear, listening isn’t the same as “not talking.” It’s possible for one spouse to hear their spouse’s words, but not connect with their souls. This is why the “husband always wants to fix everything” cliche exists. If you wonder why your spouse gets so angry that you are always trying to fix the problems they tell you about, it’s because you’re hearing their problem, but not listening to their needs. Usually, at least one partner in your marriage isn’t talking to communicate information, but to feel as though they are not alone in what they’re feeling.
Communication isn’t just a vehicle for an exchange of practical information: it’s a vehicle for human connection. It’s inviting someone to come alongside the thoughts and feelings that make you, you. So here’s a question: how good are you at listening to your spouse? Do you:
- find yourself wishing they would hurry up when telling a story?
- find a task to do while they talk to you instead of sitting next to them and listening?
- Are you quick to assume you know what they’re saying or needing?
- talk over them in an argument?
- Think about what you’re going to say when they’re done talking?
And if you really want a good marriage then here’s a bold step for you to try: ask. Send your spouse this article, then sit down tonight and say “I’m probably not super self-aware on this topic. Am I a good listener? Do you feel heard and seen by me? What makes you feel like I’m not listening? What can I do better?”
And then, when they respond, you have to – you know – listen. Don’t get defensive. Just hear what your spouse is saying. If you do this – and oh boy is it hard – but you actually have this conversation with your spouse and then put into practice what they say, I guarantee you your marriage will insta-improve.
Want to have sex more often? Listen.
Want your spouse to contribute more around the house? Listen.
Want to feel more respected by your spouse? Listen.
And if you’re worried you can’t pull this off, the good news is that God is partnering with us, and willing to make us into someone humble, gentle, and kind. So ask for his help in this journey.
I promise you he’s always listening.