01 July 2013

I always thought I was a good listener...

...and then I got married.

When people would ask you to recall what your strengths were I would almost always think to myself, "Yeah, I'm a pretty good listener...I mean I haven't been getting complaints that I'm not."  People have affirmed me that when they talk to me they feel that they have been heard and understood.  Whether it is a close friend who just needs a shoulder to cry on because of family drama or a teen going through a difficult situation at church, I really value helping people; and one of the best ways is by just being there to listen.

So, yeah. Jim and I get married.  And very recently, I have realized that somehow all those 'good' listening skills I do a fairly decent job with other people in my professional and personal life, somehow they don't always translate so well into one of the most important relationships in life: my marriage.

A few Sunday's ago we were getting ready to go to an evening Mass.  As we were getting ready, we started going at it with snippy comments and attitudes galore, which then led to the silent treatment.  Yup, we're 'that' mature newlywed couple.  I know; not really the best way to be disposed to the graces of all things awesome which is holy Mass.  It was not good.
We returned home in silence and then proceeded to begin up again with snippy, unkind comments.  Jim got fed up with me and made dinner and went to watch TV.  I was also not thinking nice things towards the husband so I decided to just head to bed; even though deep down I know nothing is quite worse than going to bed angry.  After 30ish minutes of tossing and turning, I grabbed my blankie (yes I still sleep with the blankie my Mom crocheted me) and walked out and asked if we could talk.

I asked Jim how he was feeling.  He honestly started telling me how felt so frustrated that it feels like sometimes I don't listen to him well; that more often than not, I'm interrupting him and offering my two sense about what I think/how the situation should be handled.  He said he felt bad he snapped at me, but that sometimes he just feels like he is not being heard by me. Ouch. BIG. ouch.
Me asking him that question led to a very late night of talking but also some really fruitful conversation on the importance of how we both need each other to be good listeners for the other.  I apologized and admitted that I was the one at fault in this particular situation (I hate when I have to do that...working on humility too ;-).

One thing we did as an exercise to really take something away from this unpleasant Sunday evening of tense-ness was to practice a little reflective listening.  When Jim suggested it, at first I thought it was some his social work mumbo jumbo and that he was trying to analyze me.  But when he started expressing his frustration, reflecting back what he was saying did two really cool things: 1) It really forced me to listen to his feelings and where he was at because I knew I had to say something back to show I openly heard him and 2) It really made Jim felt like he was being being heard, which then helped me see more where he was coming from.  And then after he felt like I really heard and listened he asked me how I was feeling on a particular situation, which then gave me the opportunity to be open and share where I was at; then allowing him to do the same thing go me.  Know of course I am not trying to suggest couples go through this long process to properly listen to each other or that we even are doing this without flaw since my recent "marriage aha!" moment BUT it really was good for us because still being new to this whole marriage thing communication is where one or both of us often have a tendency to miss an opportunity to be selfless and patient, and instead flip the flip out and just make a not enjoyable situation in our home.  It is very easy for me to criticize Jim and at the drop of the hat point out where he is not being the good listener I need him to be for me, but when it comes to admitting my faults...sometimes that takes me a bit longer to come around.

Since we did this I have been thinking more about the ways we communicate as husband and wife, and where specifically are my weaknesses in being a good listener in our relationship.


1.  I am seeing how quick I am to right away criticize my husband.  This past weekend we both took teens from the church to a rocking awesome youth conference.  We were gone from early Friday morning to late Sunday evening.  I was out doing errands today to come home and find Jim passed out on the couch still recovering from the weekend exhaustion.  Instantly I got frustrated and ticked off that the house was still a mess and he hadn't unpacked; thankfully I didn't become a raging menace or start yelling, but the reason I mention this is because the first thing I did when I came home was mentally criticize what he didn't do.  Sometimes Jim has expressed that he has felt like I only value what/how much he is able to get done around the house/chores/errands in a given day.  And I think in a way he is right.  I am the type that thrives on to-do lists, order, schedule, and when things don't go "my way" sometimes I respond in less than stellar ways.  I am growing more aware of this as a weakness in me, and I truly don't want Jim to feel I only value how much he cleans or does laundry.

2.  I am starting to realize how MUCH I interrupt the poor guy way too often.  Since really having more intentional conversations about how we communicate (or don't) as a couple, I am realizing how easily and often I have the tendency to interrupt Jim in little and big ways.  It's something little, but it can make a not so great difference in a big way...I know when I'm interrupted I don't like it, so why do it to him??? I think one reason is I am more quick to offer my 2 cents to a situation than letting him finish and really hearing him.  Once I have started paying attention more to this, I have seen how much I do it...work.in.progress.

3. I realize I need to make sure I am daily giving my husband affirmations and saying kind things that lift him up.  I think one reason I tend to be more critical of him is because I am so hard.critical.judgmental of myself that sometimes it spills over into the most intimate relationships in life like our marriage; no that is not an excuse, but I think it is a contributing factor at times.  I don't always love myself well on the inside and set very high and sometimes unrealistic expectations on myself, which is perhaps a reason that Jim feels like I expect so much from him sometimes. 
One of the lines in the job description of the wifely life, is to work to build up and encourage my husband...not tear him down by being critical or too harsh in words/attitude.  I really want to help make our home together a happy, joyful place and I am starting to see how sometimes my critical eye of things can leave him feeling torn down and not good enough.

4.  As much as I hated when Jim suggested we do that reflective listening exercise and I made fun of it in my head, it really was a good thing for us.  No, I am not saying every time we have a disagreement we wipe out our reflective listening tool box, but perhaps if we both strive to more intentionally and honestly listen to each other that could make a difference when we start to disagree on something.  Being able to show your spouse that you really understood and heard them is important, and I'm glad I am starting to realize that at the beginning of the game instead of 10 or 15 years down the road.

Recently in my small group, we talked about what what it means to be a Proverbs 31 woman in the modern world; what does that look like and how do we as women find that rhythm and balance amid the business of our lives.  As I have been thinking about how I do and don't always do listening well, I think of some of the words in the book of Proverbs: "She opens her mouth in wisdom, kindly instruction is on her tongue..." Marriage really purifies a person, and right now I'm being purified in ways as I think about and reflect on how the ways I need to work on being less critical and a more open listener.

I guess that is one of the hard/funny things about marriage...yes it's a never ending slumber party with the person you love and cherish, but then you also have to deal when with when your beloved brings to your attention your own faults and shot comings.  Slowly and surely, I am getting better at accepting that from my husband and being more humble to admit and be honest with myself about it too.

What are things any of you married ladies do to strive to be a better listener in your relationship with your husband?  What are some the lessons you have learned along the way?

13 comments:

  1. Great reflection, Patty. Sometimes it is so hard to recognize the areas in ourselves that we need to work on. Some of the points you mentioned resonate with me. I don't have much to offer about how I listen in my marriage, but regarding the criticism of the husband (which I do a lot), I found praying this prayer daily helps a lot.

    In gratitude for my Husband

    Dear God, I thank you for my husband. I thank you for letting this man come into and complete my life. I delight in making him happy and caring for him. I am so grateful for how he loves me and cares for me. You know that there are days that we get on each other's nerves, but today, I'm so grateful that this man completes my life and that you have given him to me to love and cherish all the days of my life.

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    1. Thanks Ann-Marie! That is a beautiful prayer, loved it!!

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  2. Oh my gracious, a girl after my own heart! You, sweet friend, are phenomenal! I cannot even put into words how much I needed to read this tonight. Just this weekend Tony interrupted me while I was talking and said "You see how it feels?" and he just went off on another topic like I was never talking because it is unfortunately how I treat him most of the time. I can relate to every single thing that you mentioned in this post! It is so refreshing to know that we are not the only immature newlyweds out there who struggle with silly things. I am going to say a prayer of you, Patty, as I say the same for myself and this mouth. Have you heard of the Monthly Marriage Goal link-up? If you are interested I would love to send you the information. Tomorrow is the first day and this is actually one of my very goals to discuss! :)

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  3. This is fantastic, so open and honest, and I LOVE that you two did reflective listening! My husband and I have recently been going to a young married couples fellowship group and the "leader" of the group is a Marriage and Family counselor who gives us a "marriage research minute" every month. A couple she's mentioned are - when you come back together after being apart (coming home from work for example) you should hug, making sure you're close and touching and hold the hug until you can physically feel yourselves calm down. This actually "reacclimates" yourselves after being apart. She also mentioned giving affirmations and then the spouse should say how they appreciate the affirmation. Personally, one thing I've noticed that's helped our communication is just to tell each other how we're feeling/whats on our minds. I have a tendency to keep things inside and I'm getting angry and upset about something that Chris has zero clue about. When I actually open my mouth and talk to him, it's something that's easily resolved! Thanks again for this great post!

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    1. I love the idea of giving each other affirmations...I read that somewhere and when we remember to do it, we're always glad when we do!! :)
      thanks girlie!

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  4. Beautiful reflection, Patty! You two are on the right road to building a strong and faith-filled marriage. Generally, it is not an easy road, but it is always worth it. I read your blog right after I shared a small write up on listening on Facebook. It really made me take some time to think about the importance of listening, truly listening:


    ON LISTENING

    "Most people have never really been listened to. They live in a lonely silence — no one knowing what they feel, how they live, or what they have done. They are prisoners of the eyes of others, of the stereotyped, limited, superficial, and often distorted ways that others see them.

    "There are no words to adequately describe what it is to be free with another person. It is most often a sensing that someone will let us be all of what we are at that moment. We can talk about whatever we wish, express in any way whatever feelings are in our hearts. We can take as much time as we need. We can sit, stand, pace, yell, cry, pound the floor, dance, or weep for joy. Whatever and however we are at the moment is accepted and respected. . . .

    "This experience of freedom and communion helps us to feel that someone is for us. And it is this deep sensing of someone, somewhere, being for us that breaks into the silent loneliness of our lives and encourages us in the struggle to be human. It helps break the tyranny of the strangers' eyes and to give our lives all that we are capable of giving.

    "Because listening can bring about such powerful healing, it is one of the most beautiful gifts that people can give and receive."

    — Carl Faber, "On Listening"

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    1. WOW Dorothy, that is an awesome quote!! I'll for sure be sharing that with Jim!! I really liked what he said about listening being able to bring about such powerful healing...so beautiful. thanks for sharing this!

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  5. This is a great reflection! I always prided myself in being a good listener but there were several occasions early on in our marriage that Michael would tell me I interrupted him - and the worst part was that I didn't realize I had interrupted him! I would jump in before he finished a sentence because I was trying to show him I heard him/could relate. Once I began noticing this I had to actively work on pausing before responding to make sure he was able to finish his thoughts.

    Likewise, I've had to learn how to GENTLY point out to him (without criticizing) when I don't feel heard. Often times he is so consumed with thoughts about work that I'll be telling him a story and the next sentence out of his mouth has nothing to do w/ what I was saying. So I'll stop and pause - and then he'll realize I had been saying something and ask me what it was. Sometimes I have to tell him I wasn't done so he doesn't switch the entire focus of the convo and he'll apologize and ask me to continue.

    In my experiences our communication is most fruitful if both people can be patient when the other person cuts you off and not go into some silent, pouting mode...but always remain open to continuing the conversation even after your feelings have been hurt. I wish you and Jim all the best as you continue to learn how to hear one another!

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    1. I like what you said about both people being patient, because that really does make a huge difference. That's where I struggle sometimes is the silent, pouting mood (I know mature, right??) It is definitely work this whole listening in marriage thing! ;)

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  6. This is great! You should link it up to the Monthly Marriage Goal! :) I'm glad you posted this, I got really excited when I saw the title in Bloglovin' since you'd told me about it the other day!

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  7. You are so brave to share this and you will probably never know how much encouragement you have brought to different readers. I really appreciated what you included about Jim saying that he feels you only appreciate when he's doing chores. I am sooo guilty of the same thing with my husband. I often find myself thinking about all the things he could be doing that I see other husbands do. But recently I have found instances where I have been able to think, well he DOES do a, b, and c and lots of husbands DON'T do those things. (I know I know--how many years has it taken me to use the most basic of marriage advice?) After a particularly trying 8 months of wondering why my husband could be "this" kind of husband, we moved. And while the move was happening I was confronted with the myriad of things my husband DOES do--which is a lot that probably many other wives with "that" kind of husband have to do themselves. I didn't need to arrange movers or handle anything with our new landlord or utilities or make any other plans. I didn't need to set up cable or anything else. He did almost everything and he did it well. And I began to realize that it's exactly what I need to remember when I'm upset that he's not like Sally Jo's husband. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for your encouragement! I think that is where we struggle the most right now, is Jim feeling like I value what he does and me putting more emphasis on that vs. taking care of him as a person/husband. It's hard girl! Thank you for your thoughts and encouragement!! :)

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  8. I've been struggling with this recently so its nice to know I'm not alone! I've always wondered why its so much easier to be a good listener at work and with friends and the minute I get home I turn into a not so good listener. Something I will keeping working hard at-Thanks for sharing!

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