As simple a task as it sounds, we often have difficulty listening to others. Remember, all you need to do is look at the person, clear your mind, ignore all the other distractions around you, and hang on every word they say. Okay, so maybe it’s not that simple; otherwise, more people would do it better. Part of the problem with listening is that we are too often preoccupied with other things to truly do listening well to someone when they have something that needs to be heard – and whether we like to admit it or not, we are not always interested in what the other person has to say. For females, the distractions around us are just so overwhelming that they are hard to ignore; whereas, for males, their task-orientation may be preventing them from focusing on the conversation (unless that is their task at the moment). Whatever your issue with listening is, this is true for both men and women: it is important to perfect the art of listening well before entering into marriage.
In my last few jobs, I was blessed with some great office friends. These were the kind of people that made going to work much easier on those days when it was hard to think of a reason not to call in and go back to bed. Still, as wonderful as they were, I often let the stress of everything going on at work keep me from really listening to them. Sure, my face may have looked like it was listening, and I wanted to understand what they were saying; yet, I often found that after they had poured their hearts out, I wasn’t sure what they’d just said. In the five minutes it took them to share what was on their minds, I had just thought about everything from what I had for dinner last night to what I need to do to prepare for my next student. After the conversations ended, I would feel a sense of regret because I really missed out on hearing my friends. I didn’t do it maliciously, but that doesn’t change the fact that I missed an opportunity to help them, and possibly even learn from them.
One way to overcome the power of the daydream is to ask questions as someone is talking to you. This will force you to keep yourself engaged on what they are saying and not just staring at them. Believe me, when you get married, this will be key. After spending all day focused on work or school, the last thing you will probably want to do is focus on listening to your spouse; however, a few minutes of intentional listening each night will be invaluable to your relationship. In fact, prepare a mental list of specific questions to ask him or her about the day he or she had. More than, “How was your day?”, try these sample questions:
- “Was there anything in particular you accomplished today that you are pleased to have completed?”
- “What new piece of information did you learn today?”
- “How did God use you at your workplace/campus today?”
Specific questions like these dig deeper than a standard greeting and they show the speaker that the listener really wants to hear what happened. It feels so good to be heard. When you have been heard, it means that someone cares enough to ignore the rest of the world and focus their energy on you. Listening well takes energy.
As mentioned above, we are not always interested in what the other person has to say – which can be understandable. For example, there are certain reality shows that I love, and I admit it, I sometimes cry when people are voted off The Biggest Loser. I could talk to Eric about some of these shows for hours! Eric, who cares little about “reality” shows, would struggle to continue listening after I bored him to tears for an hour talking about how much weight Cindy Lou lost at the last weigh in… and rightly so. While I do expect Eric to listen to me intently when I really have something to say, I have to understand what is fair. If talking about The Biggest Loser is that important to me, then I should expect him to understand that… but I also need to keep what I have to say to five minutes or less – this is only fair to him. If he talked to me about databases or a video game he’s recently played for an hour, I’d be drooling and twitching.
We should patiently listen to those things, that we may not be interested in ourselves, as an act of love to our partner. However, we should also be mindful of him or her and try not to overwhelm them with too many details of things they do not care about. We will gain more from listening than talking anyway.
When we pledge to love and honor someone for our lifetime, this includes listening to them. If they are interested in something that does not interest us, it is still important to learn enough about the topic so that we can listen, and at least somewhat understand intelligently, what they are saying. D. J. Kaufman said, “Wisdom is the reward for a lifetime of listening … when you’d have preferred to talk.” Listening to those we love gives us constant insight into their minds and hearts. Have you really been listening to your significant other lately? What steps will you take this week to become a better listener? Take some extended time this week to sit down and listen to the other person (without interrupting!) share his or her thoughts and feelings about whatever is happening in his or her life. The best listeners make the best friends – and the best friends make the best spouses!
Do you have a difficult time listening to others? Does your mind race with a rebuttal or comment while the other person is speaking so that you are not listening to him or her?