460762889 (1)In August, I attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit and heard an excellent session by Joseph Grenny, one of the authors of Crucial Conversations.

While the session had wonderful takeaways for leadership conversations, I couldn’t help thinking that it had incredible implications for marriage conversations.  Because of that, Mark and I are getting ready to go through the book together with a marriage lens.

As we look at some of the communication patterns that put us in a marriage crisis several years ago, our listening skills were one place that needed a major overhaul. Our counselor helped us to see how we were not hearing one another.

We found we were listening to defend rather than listening to understand.  This resulted in not hearing one another’s heart.

It’s a common challenge for couples. Just this week I got a note from a mom who said that her husband is a pastor who doesn’t know how to say no.  She said that she has talked to him about how she feels like a single mom but he doesn’t think it’s that big of a problem.

She’s talking but he’s not listening.

Need to get serious about hearing the heart of your spouse? Here are five steps to better listening:

1) Listen to learn.  Rather than preparing your rebuttal, ask more questions to gain an understanding of his or her struggles, emotions, and thoughts.  You might respond with “Keep talking…” or “And…..?” or “Tell me more.”

2) Mirror back. Instead of arguing or disagreeing, simply mirror back the words he or she has spoken.  You might start with “What I hear you saying is….”  It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree, it just matters that you let your spouse know you have heard him or her. Make sure you are being a safe person for your spouse to share with. Safe people don’t defend, they listen to hear.

3) Take time. If your spouse communicates something to you, hear him or her out and consider waiting for 24 hours to respond with your own thoughts.  You might respond with, “Thank you for sharing that with me. Let me think on that and pray about it and I’ll let you know my thoughts tomorrow.

4) Resist the urge to protect yourself. We protect to save face, avoid embarrassment, win the argument, to be right, and even to punish others. None of these are Christ-like responses and they will not move your marriage forward.  Both Mark and I had become experts at protecting ourselves and our interests and in doing so we weren’t helping each other or our marriage.

5) Respond with empathy, compassion, and humility. If you did something wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness.  If your spouse is communicating a concern about your relationship, don’t disregard their perspective even if you don’t see it.  Keep asking questions to understand. In the Crucial Conversations book this is called contributing to “the pool of shared meaning.”  The goal is to keep the dialogue flowing into the pool of shared meaning until you understand each other’s perspectives and can come to way to resolve whatever you’re talking about.

What about you? Regardless of how your spouse does or does not listen, what changes do you need to make? Do you need to be a safer person for your spouse to talk with? Need to be more empathetic? Do you need to stop protecting?

Today is a great day to start hearing the heart of your spouse.

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