Couples should develop their listening skills

Spring fever has crept into northeast Wisconsin and the longer and warmer days have made everything seem a little brighter. Spring and love seem to go hand-in-hand this time of year and as we near the end of Lent, we can continue our resolve to work on our marriages and relationships.

We all know so well the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous…” I would like to focus this month on something that is not mentioned by St. Paul, but certainly implied: Love is listening.

Recently I had a beautiful conversation with a friend and instead of instantly leaning into my “Mrs. Fix-it” tendencies, I decided to just sit back and listen to all the concerns that were on my friend’s heart. I discovered that the more I listened, the more I could hear that many of the suggestions I would have recommended were already explored. I had the grace in the moment to listen long and actively and realized at the end of the conversation that this was all that was really needed.

My friend wasn’t looking for solutions as much as an opportunity to voice what was on their heart. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, writes: “Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Listening can actually be one of the greatest gifts we can give our spouses because not only does the spouse feel heard, but there are several other benefits that occur. There are some very practical tips on listening that can be found in an article at center stone.org titled: “How Listening Can Improve Your Love Life: Important Dos and Don’ts You Need to Know!” Here the author says that a good listener puts aside their own thoughts and agendas and gives the other their undivided attention.

Listening actively shows the other that you value their needs and ideas, the article states. They can communicate without asking you to read their mind. They may feel the freedom to speak without being judged. And, it can easily reduce stress knowing that an enormous burden can be communicated.

Listening doesn’t mean that you sit back and passively say nothing while your spouse is allowed to speak endlessly. Listening actively is a skill on the part of the receiver who seeks to be fully present in both mind and heart, making eye contact and carefully hearing the details of the conversation. A great listener asks questions for better understanding and even repeats back what is heard so there is an acknowledgement of comprehension.

Poor listening skills, in comparison, can be categorized by constant interruption, mentally formulating responses before the person is done speaking and providing feedback disconnected from what was being communicated.

Foryourmarriage.org offers advice in an article titled “Five tips for improving marital listening skills.” One tip mentions that the spouses should “Stop, look and listen.” It suggests that when one spouse is talking, avoid the tendency to interrupt. It also opens the way for dialogue as spouses learn to take turns actively listening to each other.

Finally, the best listening skill we can cultivate is learning how to listen to God together. In this case, the spouses benefit when they learn how to grow a spiritual life both as an individual and as a couple. The thoughts and stirrings of the heart that are heard in prayer, when shared with each other, can be a very bonding and very intimate moment of love between the couple. Take time together this spring to actively listen to God. Then actively listen to each other and it will be easy to see that love is not just in the spoken words, but in the unspoken ones as well.

Tremblay is Marriage and Life Ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.