I Choose to Listen to You
“You hear with your ears but don’t really listen.” Isaiah 42:20 (NLT)
“What did you say? Jake . . . I can’t hear you . . . I love you. Are you there?”
The connection was terrible—again. The constant hum of static punctuated by the occasional loud pop had become so frustrating. Hearing Jake’s voice was nearly impossible. Cori pressed her cell phone tighter against her head, straining to hear, hot tears threatening to spill over. The few calls Jake could make from his overseas duty station were precious, but she was often upset when they concluded. Hearing only every other word made communication difficult, but she lived for each word she could make out and prayed each day for the phone to ring. She hadn’t known how precious these calls, simply a few stolen words, would become.
When was the last time your spouse listened to you with that level of intensity? When was the last time you offered it to your spouse?
Being heard is one of our greatest human needs. It connects us to others and helps them understand who we are. Knowing we are understood is essential to intimacy in relationships. It’s hard to be transparent with others, even your spouse, if you believe they just don’t get you.
Being heard and being understood are linked—both are needed to see the whole picture, just as a lock needs a key to open a door. Listening creates connections at an intimate level.
But few of us are good listeners. Most of us have a preference for talking. How often do you hear someone say, “Boy, if I just had a good talker in my life . . .” Typically our dance card is full of good talkers. Good listeners are harder to come by.
One of the questions I will ask God when I have the chance is this: “When I talked to my husband and he looked directly at me, smiling, nodding and saying ‘uh-huh’ at all the right times, but was absolutely not listening to me, why couldn’t You have placed a small red light in the middle of his forehead that flashed the words, save your breath?”
I know listening is not the ultimate indicator of his love for me. But after Jesus, he’s the most important person in my life. I want to share my stuff with him: experiences, thoughts, ideas, and concerns. I know he cares, so why isn’t he more attentive? And honestly, I’m not any better (and perhaps not as good) at giving him my undivided attention than he is at giving it to me. We can do this better.
It’s not as though we set out deliberately not to listen, fingers plugging our ears while saying “la la la la—I can’t hear you!” Listening is difficult to do. We hear with our ears. But we listen with the heart and mind—big difference.
Listening only happens as a matter of choice.
We might overhear a conversation not intended for us or pick up background noise while reading. But that’s earactivity. Heart and mind activity require much more. Listening is never accidental; it’s always on purpose. The listener is invested in the life of the talker.
Sometimes, the lack of ability or unwillingness to set aside our own stuff in the moment makes it impossible to listen at the level required for genuine understanding.
Husbands and wives often struggle with this. You burst through the door, purse under your chin, mail between your teeth, grocery bags hanging from both arms. He greets you, takes the mail and immediately launches into animated conversation about an opportunity at work. Big promotion possible, more money—isn’t it exciting? You just want to collapse, but there are groceries to put away, dinner to prepare, and kids demanding attention.
Then you realize he’s stopped talking and looks a) wounded b) angry c) confused. Maybe all three. Would you like to hear more? Yes, but not now. Maybe you’ve had a tough day at work, concerns over an aging parent, or you’re not feeling well. Some sort of life stuff makes this a bad time for such an important discussion. You simply can’t—you don’t have the ability to do it right now.
On the other hand, you may be swept up by a great movie. Perhaps you’re finishing up a terrific book, or headed out the door to garden, and the request comes, “Got a minute?” You have a choice to make. Do you break away and prefer your spouse? Do you promise time after you’ve finished without even knowing the importance of the request? Sometimes we are unwilling to make time to listen. It’s always a choice.
What is required to be a really good listener? How can I become a better listener?
- When your spouse needs to talk, ask yourself: Is now the right time? If you can’t do it at the moment, share the reason for the delay and identify why it will be more beneficial to wait.
- Rather than saying, “Now’s not a good time,” identify when you can be fully available. Perhaps after the kids are in bed, or once you’ve finished prepping for tomorrow’s presentation.
- If now is the right time, find a quiet place and minimize distractions. Turn off the TV and silence the cell phone. This communicates, “You have my full attention.”
- Come to the table with an open heart and open mind. Set aside your need to interject your own thoughts before your spouse has expressed his/hers fully.
- Ask questions to gain full understanding, but do not interrupt.
You have a choice. Make it a good one.
Book Excerpt: I Choose You Today: 31 Ways to Make Love Last by Deb DeArmond Abingdon Press, copyright 2015 Used With Permission
Deb DeArmond is an expert in the fields of communication, relationship, and conflict resolution. Deb’s work focuses on marriage and family. Her books include: Related by Chance, Family by Choice (Kregel, November 2013).Abingdon Press released I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last (June 2015) and Don’t Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight (June 2016).
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