Opening your heart to your spouse—and nurturing theirs—requires listening well. With so many different issues, obligations, devices, and people pulling at us from every direction, it can be difficult to slow down and truly listen to one another. Listening can be pleasant, but sometimes it’s downright hard. Sometimes, you might want to tune out and lose yourself in your favorite pastime instead—or dive into the list of to-do items you still need to cross off before the day is over.
But to have a healthy, thriving marriage, it’s critical to truly listen to your spouse with empathy and generosity. Today, we’re sharing five ways you can be a good listener for your spouse.
1. Listen with empathy
When you practice empathy, you’re putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes and seeing things through their eyes. Whether you’re trying to resolve a conflict or just simply listening to your spouse talk about their day, it’s beneficial to both of you to listen with empathy when your spouse speaks to you. For you, it gives you a window into their world and their perspective. For your spouse, knowing that you’re listening from an empathic vantage point helps them feel secure.
Maybe your spouse needs to vent about work, and normally, you tune out when they start talking about their tough day or their challenging project. Instead of switching your mind off while they talk, try to see the events of the day through their eyes, and in the context of your life. Have you been dealing with problems at home, like financial issues, trouble with the kids, or taking care of an ailing parent? Contextualizing your whole life along with what’s happening at your spouse’s job will help you understand the level of pile-on they’re dealing with.
2. Listen for emotion
When your spouse needs to talk to you about something—especially if it’s something hard—it’s easy to get wrapped up and carried away by your own emotions on the topic. In that case, you might respond to your spouse in a totally inappropriate way in your attempt to alleviate the difficult emotions that come up for you. Instead, take a minute to listen for what your spouse might be feeling. This type of intentional listening goes hand-in-hand with empathy.
Once you’ve identified what your spouse is feeling—whether it’s anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, or excitement—you can adjust your responses based on their emotional state. It gives you an extra chance to check yourself before you say or do something that might exacerbate the emotional state they’re in. When our emotions go into a tailspin, it can be difficult to keep communication healthy.
3. Listen without bias
You’ve both got your opinions, and it’s hard to let those opinions go in favor of simply listening to one another. Listening without bias is helpful when you have opposite stances on certain issues, or when you’re locked in a stalemate during a fight. Set your opinions aside for long enough to hear what your spouse is saying, then practice your empathy skills to try to understand why.
This doesn’t mean you have to change your opinion to match your spouse’s. What it does mean is that your spouse deserves to be heard, and you can’t truly hear if you’re filtering everything they say through your own bias.
4. Listen lovingly
When you’re communicating with your spouse, it can be helpful to use loving gestures and body language to let them know you care about what they have to say. It can be as simple as holding eye contact and nodding to affirm what they’re telling you. You could also reach out to touch them or hold hands. Turn your body toward them, or even stop what you’re doing and just sit with them if that’s what they need.
While you may be able to go about your business and have a conversation at the same time (and that can be okay sometimes), there are going to be times where you need to just put everything down and focus all your attention on your spouse. Turn off the TV, put down your phone or other devices, forget the to-do list for a little while, and give your spouse loving affirmation through eye contact and touch.
5. Listen generously
Your spouse needs the gift of your time and attention. It’s hard to take time out of our busy lives to generously give our energy to listening when we have so much to do every day, but communicating openly is key to a healthy marriage. When you listen generously, your spouse will feel secure in coming to you with their concerns, hopes, and fears.
How well do you listen to your spouse? Is your spouse a good listener? What have you done to strengthen your listening skills over the years? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!