Health for Your Marriage: Learn to Listen

We are in the middle of a multi week series answering the question: “How can I find health in my marriage.” Last week we talked about loving God above all things and prioritizing your marriage around him. Please consider going back and reading last week’s column on the Herald’s website, on Revolve’s website or in the Revolve Church NJ App.

Today’s pointer: Learn to listen.

We live in a time where it is more difficult than ever before to be mentally present even when we are physically present. A few years ago, there was an article about a popular, busy New York City restaurant that was receiving complaints because their wait times had begun to get dramatically longer. In an effort to get to the bottom of an average increase in time spent at a table from 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour and 55 minutes, the management reviewed ten years of surveillance videos to see who was to blame. The results were surprising. Who was to blame? The customers.

What’s even more fascinating is why customers were taking longer to eat than they used to - cellphones. Long gone were the days of showing up and ordering. Now, people wanted to take a picture when they arrived at the restaurant (better make that five or six so that we can get the perfect pose). Servers would arrive to take orders, but customers were too busy instagramming and hadn’t even begun to look at the menu. When food arrived, more pics had to be taken and posted with #foodie.

The world is changed, people, and not necessarily for the better. Cellphones aren’t just haunting our time out at restaurants, they are changing the way that we interact with others. Teenagers text each other even when they are in the same room, grammar and syntax are plummeting through the floor as people communicate in 140 characters or less, and family meals are constantly interrupted by notifications.

In terms of marriage (and family), it is easy to be present physically, but not be present with your loved one. Do you listen to your spouse while staring at your phone? Even if it isn’t your phone, do you listen to your spouse while finishing a project you are working on or typing on the computer? You might be to blame!

Early in my marriage, I thought that my wife would be content to spend time with me regardless of the quality of the time. Running errands together, watching television, gardening - in my mind, that counted as connectedness, but what I realized as we were married longer is that there is a difference between being connected and being CONNECTED! I was present, but not really.

What my wife and I truly need to do is spend effort listening to one another - practicing the art of conversation. Gina wants to know that she has been heard in my heart - that I truly grasp what she is trying to say to me - not just that I can quote back to her the words that came out of her mouth.

That type of listening takes time and dedication in a world that fights to keep us distracted and spread thin. Gina and I both work from home, have young children, and work with people. It is easy for us to function in the same house and treat it as if it were an office environment, but this is unhealthy. We need to be present, to listen, and to connect both with one another and with our children.

How about you? Can you relate to what I am saying? Do you feel as though you speak with your spouse but they don’t truly hear you? Why is that? Do you have time together? Is the time that you have distracted? Are both of you plugged into your phones when you could be enjoying one another’s company?

  1. Here are a few ideas about how you can practice the art of listening.
    Buy a book like “The Bucket List for Couples” and use it as a conversation starter with your spouse over a quiet dinner alone. Do you know your spouse’s dreams anymore?
  2. Grab an old box and put it somewhere in your house with the understanding that the family will park their phones after a certain time of day. Park your phones and enjoy uninterrupted time together.
  3. Go on a date with your spouse regularly. You might say, “This isn’t important to my spouse.” I get it - we used to say the same thing, but as the kids get older, we crave those times more and more! If money is tight and kids are young, find another couple with whom you can make a deal. One week you watch their kids and the next week they watch yours.
  4. Slow down. Pick one day of the week when your family will be technology free. Go for a walk, stroll on the beach, or go for a drive. Do something to unplug from this busy, crazy life. You and your spouse need it!

Connectedness and listening, being present while you are present, are learned behaviors. Start practicing today.