This is the first part in a series of posts related to skills needed to build a rich marriage. If you would like to sign up for our free marriage builder email course, you can do so by clicking this link. One of the key skills to building a healthy marriage and healthy relationships in general is to learn to listen well.
James 1.19 says, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;..." The Greek word translated as hear comes with a sense of: to attend to, to consider what is or has been said to understand, to perceive the sense of what is said. So it is not just to hear the words someone shares with you, but to attend to them, to consider them, to seek to understand and perceive the sense of what has been said.
So how do you do that? Well first, we have definitely have not arrived to perfection, but over the last 13 years my wife and I have consistently sought to grow in our "hearing" of one another.
Here are 5 things we have learned along the way, that might be of help to you:
1.Put Yourself In Their Shoes
When your spouse shares something with you, it is natural for many of us to focus on what we want to say in response or to become defensive or dismissive. Fight that tendency and as your spouse is sharing try and put yourself in their shoes and seek to empathize with what they are saying. If they are saying they are tired, think about how things are when you are tired. If they are saying they are discouraged, think about how you feel when you are discouraged.
2. Demonstrate Empathy
Hebrews 4 tells us about Jesus, our great High Priest: "15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
When we come to Jesus, he leads with empathy. Work to follow his lead.
3. Check For Understanding
When I was a math teacher, often times I would think I had taught the perfect lesson, but I would later find out my students had missed it entirely. Soon I learned that I needed to check for understanding along to discern if they were really hearing what I was teaching them. In the same way, in relationships it is important that we check to see if we have understood what our spouse has said.
You can do this by saying, "I want to make sure I do a good job listening, <restate what they said>- am I getting what you are wanting to say to me?" When you do this, your tone needs to be friendly not antagonistic, and when you restate what they have said, you want them to know they have been heard and that their view point matters.
4. Don't Cut Them Off
It is tempting to want to cut the other person off. Remember our opening Scripture exhorts us to be slow to speak. Avoid jumping in to quickly and cutting the other person off.
5. Manage Your Emotions
The last teaching in the opening Scripture is to be slow to become angry. We need to manage our emotions. Proverbs 25.28 says, "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls." This proverb refers back to the ancient days of cities where they were surrounded and fortified with large walls. When we give up being self-controlled and let our negative emotions overwhelm our response, we are like one of those old cities whose walls are broken down and our Enemy can run to and fro as he pleases."
Seek to apply these to your communication and watch your "hearing" of each other grow tremendously.