“If I have the gift of prophecy, but have not love, I am like a booming gong or a clanging cymbal.”
“Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)
Now that we’ve gotten all of that nasty listening out of our system, we can move on to what most of us wanted in the first place – – how to get my spouse to listen to me! (Oops. There I go again. Good listening is still crucial. It’s the key to everything.)
As important as it is, a happy marriage doesn’t just require listening. It requires the ability to speak up for yourself when needed. It’s not always easy or pleasant. When we do so we can’t be dismissive, arrogant, enraged, vengeful or hurtful. That’s the message I get from this passage warning us against keeping a grudge:
Lev 19:17-18 “You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord”.
Sometimes we need to be quite direct, but there can be no malice in our words or manner. That’s what it means to “speak the truth in love”(Eph 4:15). That is because “Love does no evil to the neighbor…” (Romans 13:10)
Okay. How do we go about being truthful but not hurtful? We start with listening. If your spouse doesn’t feel understood, there’s no way she’s going to listen. So, the first step in getting heard, is to make absolutely sure that you understand what’s being said. I can’t tell you how often that DOESN’T HAPPEN and we have an argument. If you get it right, your spouse usually will say “yes, that’s how I feel.”
Caution: Understanding doesn’t mean you have to agree. It simply means you clearly understand where she is coming from and treat her (or him) with respect. You sometimes have to bite your tongue, avoid mindreading, interrupting, and arguing, so that your spouse sees that you “get it”. That’s not easy!! So here are some guidelines for listening & speaking.*
Listener:* JUST LISTEN, then summarize when your spouse pauses
- Summarize without adding, interrupting, or minimizing.
- Above all don’t criticize, argue or mind read.
- Really try to understand. (This is super important.)
Speaker* (Express yourself honestly, effectively and charitably)
- Speak only for yourself; don’t blame, show contempt or mind read
- Don’t go on and on. Pause to make sure the Listener’s “getting it”.
- It’s fine to say “Yeah, that’s exactly it”!
- Be gracious in correcting your Listener and share the floor.*
If you’d like to try it, here are some topics.
Topic A: Speak for five minutes about your favorite vacation.(One person is Speaker and the other is Listener– – five minutes, then switch)
When one spouse is done speaking for five minutes, evaluate how things went. Learn anything? Rate yourself on not interrupting, criticizing and mind reading. Now (gulp) ask your spouse how you did. No matter what, don’t argue about it. You feel the way your feel. We can learn a lot from our spouses. Practice with low stress topics really help. When you are done, the other person speaks for five minutes. Be honest but BE NICE!
Topic B: What is your “job” as a spouse, particularly a Christian spouse?
(Again, one person is Speaker and the other is Listener– – five minutes, then switch roles.)
Same guidelines. When one spouse is done speaking for five minutes, evaluate how things went. Learn anything? Rate yourself on not interrupting, criticizing and/or mind reading. Now (gulp) ask your spouse how you did. Again, you are ONLY speaking for yourself, NOT the other person. Resist every impulse to criticize or speak for the other person. This is simply an opportunity to know something about your spouse thanks. Be charitable.
To reiterate, good listening is the key to everything. And, when we speak, we speak for ourselves. Avoid mind reading; pause so our spouse can summarize what was said; avoid all signs of disrespect (criticism/blaming, defensiveness, contempt, or stonewalling)
Homework: Discuss Topic A or B If… I have not love, I am like a booming gong or a clanging cymbal.”
*Guidelines and wording similar to that used in the PREP, Inc. program. Consider attending one of their marital education seminars.