Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Art of Listening

I will never forget the first time Adam said "I love you" to me. My response was, "What did you say??" It wasn't that I didn't hear him the first time, I just wanted him to say it again so I could listen with my heart.

Listening is a catalyst for any relationship and distinguishes the human experience. Stravinsky, a Russian-born modern composer said it best, "To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also."

I think listening to your spouse is the most vital aspect of communication. The benefits that will spring from your marriage cannot be understated. Most arguments stem from a spirit of confusion. One spouse will make a statement, but the other may interpret the words in a completely different meaning than the original intent. This is especially true if one spouse has a "thinking" personality and the other spouse has a "feeling" personality.

Consider this scenario: A husband and wife are eating out at a restaurant. The wife finishes her steak dinner, and orders cheesecake for dessert. The husband (thinking/factual) says, "Wow, you must be hungry! Are you going to eat all that?" The wife (feeling) looks up with misty eyes and replies, "You think I am fat, I knew it!" The husband is befuddled, but never asks her what is wrong.

Misunderstanding can be cleared up the moment one spouse seeks out understanding. In fact, active listening begins with a desire to understand your spouse. Purpose it in your heart to undo the tangled interpretation even when you know your intent is innocent. Invite your spouse to share how he/she interpreted your words to pinpoint the origination of the confusion.

Tips for active listening:

1) Do not cross your arms- This non-verbal language communicates a defensive wall. The person talking will mistakenly believe that you are not interested in what he/she has to say.

2) Maintain eye contact- It has been said that "the eyes are the window to the soul." They will give you glimpses of what the person is feeling and clues to reaching the heart. Plus, as you look at your spouse in the eyes, it communicates that you are tuned in to what he/she is saying.

3) Do not interrupt- During misunderstandings, each spouse desparately wants to convey his/her side. You may feel like you are going to burst especially if you do not agree with what your spouse is saying. Put your hand over your mouth if you have to, but let your spouse finish speaking. They have the "floor" and you will too--if you take turns.

4) Don't think about what you are about to say while your spouse is talking- Although the mind wants to quickly conjure up a rebuttal, it is imperative that fully absorb what your spouse is saying without constructing your response when you should be listening.

5)Repeat back your spouse's words with your interpretation- "When you said ______ did you mean ____?" This allows your spouse to clarify his/her intent and prevents confusion.

6) Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt- Don't assume your spouse's motives as he/she is talking. Allow him/her to clarify before you jump to conclusions.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an open heart and to keep increased intimacy the overarching goal of every conversation.


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