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One of our greatest needs is to be understood by others. This is especially true for a healthy marriage. Learn what it means to really listen so your spouse can feel most understood by you.

Some have said that next to our need for food and shelter, our next greatest need is to be understood. We all have opinions, desires, fears, and frustrations, and we want others to acknowledge them. That’s when we feel most connected to someone. That’s why the skill of listening is so important in any relationship. But there is a difference between listening and truly listening. A good listener has the right skills and also the ability to show that they understand the messages they hear.

“Listening” is suspending your own thoughts and feelings to enter the experience of another person.

Real listening is about validating and appreciating what your spouse is saying and trying to put yourself in their shoes. It’s really about taking an interest in your spouse and desiring to understand their perspective. When we feel heard this way, we feel affirmed as people, and that builds connection.

If being understood is a basic need for any person, why do so many couples fail to listen to one another?

[Related: The Art of Listening]

Common Roadblocks to Listening

There are many reasons why someone doesn’t want to listen. Here are just a few reasons why some spouses don’t want to listen to and understand their spouses.

  • Listening seems like a passive response and it feels like you’re accepting fault if you don’t respond. Some people spend time thinking of a rebuttal instead of listening to their spouse.
  • One partner is always griping about something so the other doesn’t take any one thing seriously. They check out.
  • Distracted spouses are easily side-tracked by other things like their phone or a show. They miss out on hearing what their spouse is saying.
  • Transference issues. This is when you put your own meaning into what your spouse is saying so you hear what you want to hear, not what your spouse is really saying.
  • We feel attacked when we hear criticism so we just shut down.

There are many other reasons why it can be hard to listen, but here’s the point: if you want to have a healthy marriage, then you can learn to be a good listener.

Listening Is a Skill Anyone Can Learn

Being a good listener isn’t a character or personality trait, but a skill that can be learned and practiced. Sharpen your skills with a few of these tips:

  • Be attentive. No distractions. Listen so that you can summarize what you hear.
  • Be empathetic. Really try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and see things from their perspective.
  • Ask good questions. A good listener isn’t just able to repeat back what they hear, they want to understand it fully. This will require follow up questions to clarify and understand your spouse’s point of view.

Sample Questions

  1. What were the highs and lows of your day?
  2. What are your biggest stresses right now?
  3. Rate your day on a scale from 1-10 (1 being awful, 10 being fantastic). What contributed to giving your day that number?

One of your spouse’s greatest needs is to be understood by you. If you want your marriage to be healthy and strong, then acquire the skills of being a good listener so you can truly understand your spouse.

[Related: Helpful Tips for Better Communication]

This topic is adapted from the book The Lost Art of Listening by Michael Nichols, PhD.
Talk About It
  1. What stood out to you in this topic? Why?
  2. Who is the best listener you know? What makes them stand out as a great listener?
  3. On a scale of 1-10, how often do you feel understood by your spouse? Explain. What number would your spouse give you? Explain.
  4. How do you know if your spouse is really listening to you or not?
  5. In your own words, what’s the difference between empathetic listening versus just listening? What are the specific skills that a great listener possesses?
  6. What does it communicate to you when your spouse really shows that they want to understand your perspective?
  7. What is the benefit of asking good questions of your spouse? How does that help you to become a better listener?
  8. Read James 1:19. What typically happens when you and your spouse have a disagreement? How would it impact your argument if you were both quick to listen and slow to speak?
  9. Read Matthew 7:24. Listening is important in our spiritual journey as well. What is wisdom and how does listening help you to become wiser?
  10. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.