Have you ever been talking to your spouse only to get the impression that he or she is hearing the words you’re saying…but nothing’s really “landing”?
That’s because it’s possible to hear something without really listening to it.
There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a physical function of the body. It’s something God designed the ear to do.
Listening is an intellectual devotion to the auditory signals the ear is picking up. We hear things all day, but we don’t always listen to them.
Think of someone who lives next to an airport or a busy highway. All day long, that person is exposed to noise. It’s loud and constant and, at first, very annoying. But before long, most people will learn to tune out the noise so they can listen to other things. They stop noticing it at all.
Instead of cars or airplanes, we can also do that with people. Too often, we hear the words a person says but we don’t listen. We might look at the person, smile, nod, and say “uh-huh” regularly—all while thinking about something else.
The lights are on, as the old saying goes, but no one is home.
This is a pretty commonsense piece of advice, but I’m going to write it anyway: You need to listen when your spouse speaks to you.
Pay attention. People often communicate things beyond the words they say on the surface. Tone matters. Pace matters. Body language matters. You can’t pick up on those things unless you are genuinely listening.
And it’s very difficult to hide the fact that you’re not listening to your spouse. He or she will figure it out. If it becomes a regular occurrence, they may learn to save their words for someone who will really listen.
To help you listen—and to make sure your spouse knows that you are listening—it often helps to ask questions about what is being said. Don’t interrupt, but make appropriate comments or dig deeper into the conversation.
It is equally important to make eye contact with your spouse. Wandering eyes lead to a wandering mind. This doesn’t mean you should creep them out with an unblinking stare, but make your spouse is the center of your attention when you are talking. This means turning off the TV, putting down your phone, and focusing.
Does that mean it’s wrong to talk while you and your spouse are doing something else, like working around the house or driving somewhere? Of course not. But it’s important to find a regular, protected time when you can cultivate good conversation that’s not competing with anything else.
Karen and I do this early in the morning before the day begins or in the evenings when things begin to slow down. After several decades of marriage, we still need and enjoy this time together.
Whatever you do, make sure it is clear from your actions and response that you are listening to your spouse. A blank, distant stare at the end of something freshly spoken puts up a wall between a couple who is trying to communicate.
You know as well as I do that a healthy relationship can’t function on opposite sides of a wall.