I’m betting on the fact that you can catch the sarcasm in that title. I mean don’t get me wrong, sometimes I am a great listener, or at least I can be. But often times, what happens is I get distracted or lock on to one idea or another and then lose myself while waiting to respond.
I think we all do this.
Especially the waiting to respond part.
Has your spouse ever accused you of not listening?
Have you ever been sitting in a conversation, heated or not, and then all of a sudden lose yourself in the moment?
One moment you’re sitting there and then the next moment you kind of forget where you are and you haven’t heard the last few sentences of whatever was being said.
Yeah me too.
I can remember growing up and being told that I had two ears and one mouth for a reason. Makes sense when you think about it, but for most of us, I don’t think it stops us from rambling that much.
I can also remember being taught as a kid, that there is a difference between just hearing something and really listening. I’m pretty sure Chesterton said that at one point.
I don’t think I truly realized what that meant until I got married.
I’ve always thought I was a good listener, but it wasn’t until Mary and I started to really go through some tough times that I began to understand that I’m not as good of a listener as I thought.
Over and over again, we would be sitting in a counselors office, and she would begin to describe a way she felt or express something to me and it was like what I was hearing was not at all what she was saying. It was getting filtered by my own sets of issues and woundings creating something different altogether.
Of course we often do this to each other, but over these last 10 years what we’ve learned is that we’ll never truly be listening to one another if we’re not able to show each other empathy.
Listening well presupposes compassion, and compassion will always involve healthy doses of empathy. (tweetable)
Empathy is the key to becoming a great listener. If you’re not able to put yourself in the shoes of the other and completely engross yourself with their feelings of pain, sorrow, joy, what have you, then you’ll lack the ability to truly connect. And lets face it, nothing lasts without connection.
I can remember one time in particular where Mary came home really hurting about something. Rarely have I ever seen her hurt but this time it was evident. We were living in a small apartment at that time and somehow our conversation had us sitting on the floor in the middle of the hallway.
The memory brings tears to my eyes, because I can’t stand the thought of my beautiful wife in any kind of pain, especially when I know I added to it! But she was telling me about one particular relationship she had been hurt by, and I remember sitting there just reacting and responding as though I could fix it.
Foolishly, I immediately started to suggest this and that, blowing past her feelings, and in the process creating an even deeper wound.
Being empathetic to the hurts of my wife in that moment was the farthest thing from my mind.
I’m not proud of that and I wish I could take it back.
Ernest Hemingway famously said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
He was right, you know. Most of us never really listen, we’re just waiting to reply.
Looking back at that memory and others like it, I realize what a bad listener I was and how much pressure that has put on my marriage.
But even in those hard, ugly, painful seasons of marriage, I’ve experienced God’s grace over and over again.
That grace has taught me about the connection between listening and being known.
We all deeply desire to be known. It’s one of our core needs in life. And when we give the gift of truly listening to another, we give them the gift of being known.
Tim Keller paints a beautiful picture of this in the book The Meaning of Marriage. He says:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Sometimes the greatest gift we can give to one another is just to sit and listen.
Now I find that I’ll ask Mary if she wants me to just sit and listen or if she wants me to respond. I’m really ok with either. More than anything I want her to know I’m there for her. I’m her biggest cheerleader and loudest supporter! And that no matter what happens or what she goes through, I’m the one that’s still going to be there no matter what.
Those are the gifts that listening can give.
Have you ever known a bad listener? Have you ever been a bad listener? Are there any tips or suggestions you’ve come across that has helped you and your spouse in your marriage become better listeners?
Share in the comments below!