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?