Five Steps To Hear The Heart of Your Spouse

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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4 thoughts on “Five Steps To Hear The Heart of Your Spouse

  1. Personally, I need to just stop being defensive. I need to remember that he’s not necessarily trying to tell me that I’m wrong or stupid or bad at something. I need to remember to try to filter everything through the lens that says “he loves me & most likely is trying to be kind, loving, or helpful… some things are just always hard to hear.” I need to remember that it’s NOT all about me. 🙂

    I did hear or read something recently that has helped me to do a better job of not feeling like my husband is critical of me… “keep track of how your spouse is GIVING” instead of keeping track when you’re upset or hurting or when others are critical, keep track of how they give or care. In September, my back went out & I ended up going to the ER. My husband was phenomenal. There is a LONG list of things he did that he shouldn’t have had to deal with until I turned 90. 🙂 He gave SO MUCH that weekend in particular – and all without an unkind word, or an attitude of frustration – even when my pain kept him from sleeping or he had to practically carry me down the condo stairs (I am very much overweight – and he did not even utter a word about how heavy I was as he took on most of my weight to get me to the car). Yes, we talked later about my need to do something about it, but I knew his heart was in the right place & while it’s hard to talk about or to hear & it’s SO easy to be defensive about, keeping track of how he gave helped me to hear what he was saying the way he meant to say it. 🙂

    • Becky, what a beautiful gift your husband gave you. And what a gift you can give him back on keeping track of how he is giving!

  2. I’m just beginning to realize how much fear impacts my life and my decisions…even the way I communicate. I think I’ve been so afraid of not being heard that I fail to really listen. This is a great article! Thank you!