Things I’ve Learned in Twenty-Five Years of Marriage – Part 5

The Difference Between Just Hearing and Really Listening

Photo Credit: Don Voaklander via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Don Voaklander via Compfight cc

Learning to communicate in marriage means learning to listen. It isn’t just enough to hear the words that are coming from your spouse’s lips, but you’ve got to listen with a heart to hear what is truly being said. This doesn’t come naturally, but we can learn how if we desire.

“My brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” ~ James 1:19

Communication is Like a Game of Catch

Communicating in our marriages is like a constant game of toss and catch. I am constantly, when I’m speaking, tossing messages to my spouse. I am not just tossing words. I am tossing complete messages. My wife has to do her best to catch the message that I’m tossing her way. When she understands the message that I have sent, or when she’s caught what I’ve tossed (to continue the analogy), we have successfully completed the cycle. If she doesn’t catch the message then the cycle is incomplete.

The problem in this game of toss and catch can occur on either end. This article deals with the receiving end of the game. If you’ve ever watched a wide receiver in football juggle a pass from the quarterback, and eventually watch the football fall to the ground, then you get the picture.

Why Do We Drop the Ball When Listening?

It is anyone’s guess why the ball was dropped. Maybe the receiver took his eyes off the incoming pass. Maybe the receiver was thinking about outrunning the oncoming defender once the ball was caught. In the end it doesn’t matter. Nothing else can happen if the ball isn’t caught. No first down. No touchdown. No celebration. No victory. When the ball is dropped everyone feels the letdown.

The same is true in communication in our marriage. As the receiver my first job is to catch the message. If I am focused on the words alone (I don’t like the tone of voice or choice of words), I may miss the message. If I am thinking about what I am going to say in response (defending myself or a hurtful comeback), I may miss the message.

Remember, my first job as the person hearing the message isn’t to think about responding, but instead to ensure that I am actually hearing the message that is being sent. That is the difference between hearing and listening. Once I have heard the message, and only then, I am ready and able to respond.

Listening is Loving, Simply Hearing is Not

When I simply hear what my wife is saying, I am not focused on her. I am not thinking about loving her. I am not thinking about what she needs. I am being selfish. I hear the words, the tone, the underlying accusation (real or imagined), and I am ready to respond. I feel justified in responding. My hurt moves me to lash back, shut down, or in some other way drop the pass. When I do this no one scores, no one celebrates, there is no victory.

We have to remember that each party has responsibility for completing their part of the communication cycle. Both husband and wife have to ensure that loving each other is their prime motivator whenever they communicate. When I am listening, it’s not about me. Listening is about showing my spouse her worth to me. Listening is about letting her know that she is important, that I care, and that I want us both to win.

As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Is listening difficult for you? Do you find yourself focusing on the words spoken instead of trying to receive the actual meaning? Share your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to interacting with you.

This is Part 5 in a series on the things I’ve learned in twenty-five years of marriage. Links to the other articles are below.