A key element in the success of any relationship is the ability to listen. Throughout our many years of marriage, raising a family, and interacting with other couples and families, we have seen a variety of listening styles that impact the ways in which couples and spouses relate to one another. These behaviors stem more from the needs of the listener than those of the speaker.
Common listening behaviors
Let me fix this: These kinds of listeners believe it is their duty to solve everyone’s problem. Even while a spouse or child is still speaking, they are already figuring out the steps needed to eliminate the issue.
We’ve already discussed this: This pattern occurs when a loved one is raising an issue which he or she shared before. In our minds, we’ve already dealt with it and moved on, and so we expect him or her to have done the same by now.
Get to the point: In our hectic lifestyles, we have become so accustomed to short, direct communications, that the details can seem tedious and (in our estimation) a waste of time.
Not listening all the way: Another byproduct of our hectic lifestyles is reflected when we insist on multitasking while our loved one shares with us. This means we believe we can continue to clean house, fix dinner and balance the checkbook, among myriad other tasks, while also listening to what is being said.
I know where this is going: This style kicks in when the problem expressed involves the listener. Rather than accept the speaker’s feelings, the listener spends his or her time crafting a rebuttal.
A blast from the past: Let’s face it. Many of us had topics that were taboo at home when we were growing up. If someone happens to bring up one of those topics today, we might find ourselves either tuning out or too pre-occupied with memories of failed attempts to broach these subjects. What we really want to do is put our fingers in our ears, pretending we can’t hear them.
Rejection, toleration and acceptance
Though there are many more listening styles, most fit into three distinct categories when it comes to reacting to loved ones.
Rejection can be outright, especially when we respond negatively with comments, like “That’s dumb!” or “Are you kidding me?” More often, though, our rejection is subtle, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” A comment like this could actually mean, “I’m sorry, but your feelings are not acceptable to me right now.”
With toleration, the listener hears out the speaker, but also aims to soothe away the problem with suggestions such as: “Why don’t you take a nap and later we’ll catch dinner and a movie.” As kind as this seems, the listener has created a means for the speaker to take all those feelings and pack them away again. Nothing gets resolved. The listener has merely distracted the speaker, a loved one, from the real issue.
Acceptance occurs when we take to heart the feelings of our spouse and children. It is our willingness to try to understand what they are feeling—as if we are standing in their shoes. Acceptance is the reaction that benefits them the most, but it takes the most discipline to achieve. What they have to share is far more important than our needs to prepare a response, multitask, or allow our own “stuff” to get in the way. This means that we are making a conscious choice to be fully present for our loved ones, by staying close physically and making eye contact. We let them share what they need to say without trying to finish their thoughts or complete their sentences. We don’t suggest solutions unless a solution is solicited. We take the time to examine the emotion they are communicating: sorrow, frustration, disappointment, confusion, etc., and we ask questions to help draw them out. This may seem time consuming, but the benefits are powerful.
Case in point – Fr. Jim Pappas
A few months ago, our daughter was facing some deadlines that were seemingly impossible to meet. She was angry and frustrated. As she launched into her frustrations, I listened with only enough heart to find a solution.
When I started to offer advice, she quickly shut me down saying: “I don’t need you to fix this. I just need someone to understand how upset I am right now.”
I had heard her message, loud and clear. And I changed my attitude. Instead of aiming to find a solution, I listened intently with an accepting heart. I was amazed at how quickly my daughter was able to sort things out with very little input from me. I merely support her in her dilemma.
Listening with the heart allows us to accept someone in the moment. It lets the listener find the heart of the other and love them for who they are—unconditionally. The more we truly listen, the more we can understand the heart and the needs of those we love the most.