This post was written by Brendt Blanks. Brendt is the founder of She Gave It A Go, an online community that is all about empowering and encouraging women to pursue the meaningful things in their lives. Faith, family, and farmhouse decor are her three favorite topics to talk about. She is married to her husband of 18 years, Andy, and they have four children. She loves spending time with her family, leading small groups at church, making her house warm and inviting, and using social media platforms to encourage others to give it a go!
Website/blog: www.shegaveitago.com | Instagram @shegaveitago as well as Pinterest and Facebook at She Gave It A Go.
Listening in Marriage
Listening to your spouse can be a bit tricky in the best of times, and downright hard when the world around you is competing for your attention.
Really listening to another person isn’t always easy. But believe it or not, being a person who listens is a value that is encouraged throughout Scripture.
James, Jesus’ brother, encourages all people to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger” (James 1:19). In Proverbs, Solomon urges us to make our ears “attentive to wisdom” (Prov. 2:2). There is the expectation throughout the Psalms that God will truly hear our pleas for help. As Christ-followers called to imitate God (Eph. 5:1), listening to others—especially our spouses—is an aspect of our sanctification.
But what does it mean to really listen?
I like to think of listening as not only paying attention to the words your spouse is saying, but also being in tune with the non-verbal cues you are observing, and then doing the work to express to your spouse what you've seen and heard to let them know you’ve taken it all in. Hearing is much more straightforward. I can hear my husband talk to me, but not be personally connected to him. I hear my husband when he is talking to me while I’m folding laundry and he’s cooking dinner and we’re both talking but not wholly in tune with the other. We may have Spotify playing in the background, and the kids may be chasing the dog through the kitchen. And over it all we’re talking. Sound familiar?
While life certainly doesn’t allow these intimate listening moments to happen all the time, it is essential to carve these interactions out for the sake of your marriage. Your spouse is designed by God to listen to you and you to them. It’s easy to think that the biblical description of marriage, “ . . . and the two shall become one flesh” in Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5, is only speaking to physical intimacy. But it’s also speaking to the idea that you and your husband are so unified in thought, purpose, and mission that it is as if you are one. This type of unity doesn’t happen without really knowing the other person. And that doesn’t happen without listening to them.
Listening is something that spouses have to be intentional about and is sure to invite connection between you and your spouse, ultimately taking you to a deeper level of intimacy.
Some of my favorite times of listening to my husband have been when we've carved out time for a nice dinner, and we talk for 2–3 hours. We cover many topics during this time (but are careful not to spend too much time on work or children). We've never walked away from this time regretting it, but instead come away much more connected, having enjoyed hearing from each other’s hearts and minds.
If your life is like mine, this doesn’t happen without real intentionality.
So what do you do when an important event occurs in your career, or your spouse is experiencing deep heartache, or perhaps you need to process your parents’ declining physical health, or any number of serious issues have cropped up? Or maybe it’s nothing major, but it’s just been too long since you’ve had an actual adult conversation. These are the moments in life that necessitate intentional, authentic listening.
How do you make it happen? I’d like to offer you three ways you can listen to your spouse starting today, no matter where you are in your relationship.
- Set The Scene: However you organize your life (i.e., paper calendar, Google, iCal, etc.), once or twice a month schedule a time and a place where you and your spouse will be able to listen to one another. Again, my husband and I enjoy extended dinner outings as the perfect opportunity to do this. Another way we enjoy these times may be by our fire pit after younger children are asleep. Whatever it looks like for you, be intentional about getting it on the calendar.
- The Art of Putting It Into Practice: How do you listen? By maintaining eye contact, putting cell phones away from the table, and having as little environmental noise and distraction around you as possible to up the connectivity. After you’ve listened to your spouse talk, repeat back a summary to them of what you’ve heard them say.
This gives the opportunity for them to correct you if you misheard them, or to let them feel validated. Be aware of your tone; starting off in a soft tone (even if the topic is a hard one to approach) will most likely help carry the conversation in a softer tone.
3. Don’t Offer Advice Unless They Ask For It: One of the practices as a Marriage and Family Therapist I consistently observed was that while I discussed various cognitive or behavioral changes, there were many times that, if the client sitting in my office could just have someone to listen to them, they eventually were able to process the issue themselves. They would literally problem solve as they were talking it out. I would continue to repeat back what I heard, validate their feelings, and ask more questions. Many times, they came to the solutions they were searching for themselves. This same technique can apply to your spouse. We think we're so helpful to have all the solutions to their problems, but in reality, we may be able to help them more by at least listening to them first. If/when they ask for our help or advice, it is okay to move forward at that point.
The more you practice listening to one another, the easier it will become. It's like a muscle: the more you work it out, the stronger it gets. It will strengthen the bond between you and your spouse and will see Jesus’ call to live as one realized.