How to Really Listen to Your Spouse

Updated: Dec 29, 2018

Couples who know how to listen, know how to thrive. Those with poor listening skills have a poor relationship.

When you think of the greatest leadership development organizations in the country of what do you think? You might be tempted to name a company like Google that has re-defined what it means to search the Internet and is known for out of the box thinking. Maybe a company like Apple will come to mind as you marvel at the steady stream of blockbuster devices they have engineered. Still others might think of the U.S military with its world-class training to prepare our troops for optimal performance. All of these, of course, are excellent organizations with proven leadership programs. However, none of them compare to the greatest place for leadership development in the world—your home. Family is supposed to be the training ground that equips you with the relational skills, character, and affirmation that you need for success in life. Developing this culture in your home demands one skill above all else. This is the ability to create a listening atmosphere in your home.

The home is the best setting to develop the ability to listen

What exactly does it mean to cultivate a listening atmosphere? It first starts with the recognition that listening and hearing are not the same thing. Many people err in believing that just because they hear something that means they are listening. That is simply untrue. Hearing is a purely physical phenomenon involving the anatomical structures in your ear. Don’t get me wrong. Hearing has arguably been our most fundamental important and evolved sense. In fact, Brown University neuroscientist, Dr. Steven Horowitz, who is among the nation’s foremost authority on hearing posits that it is our ability to hear that is our most important and evolved sense and “is a more essential tool for survival than sight”. The point isn’t to argue whether or not hearing is in fact the most important sense. Rather, it is simply to note that as important as hearing is it still isn’t listening.

Hearing is Not Listening

Unlike hearing, listening is not physiological at all. In fact, you don’t even need your ears to listen. Listening is an act of the heart. Listening is understanding what is transpiring around you—the things that can and cannot be seen.

The best listeners develop the ability to listen to God, to themselves, and to others. Regardless of the source of the communication, listening requires attention. Effective listening communicates value because it tells the other party that what they have to say is important enough to merit your undivided attention. To truly listen is to say “you are worth my time”. Listening is an investment.

Listening, in fact, is the most important investment that you can make in your home. It is the necessary ingredient for each member of your family to develop into the person that God destined. In this way, listening is leadership development at its most basic. When you truly felt heard, you feel valued. When you feel valued, you develop trust. And, trust fosters a sense of security. Putting it all together we see that listening done well culminates in a sense of security for all involved. But, creating a true listening culture does not happen with random acts of attentiveness. Instead, it requires consistent attention to each member of the family, even with all of the different personalities, strengths, and tolerances. Listening must develop into a habit in your home.

Developing the listening habit at home requires consistent application of five behaviors across your family. These five behaviors are captured in the acrostic H.A.B.I. T.

The Listening Habit

  1. H – Honor Purpose: Helping each person in the home develop into the person s/he is destined to be requires a sensitivity to the gifts of each person. Rather than directing each person towards what you think s/he should be, you honor her innate purpose. For your child, it is training her up in the unique way she should go as instructed by Proverbs 22:6. For your spouse, it is encouraging the gifts to fuller expression. As you honor purpose you affirm the listen habit in your home.

  2. A – Affirm Strengths: Many families fail to rise to their potential because members spend so much energy focusing on their weaknesses. These families often become embroiled in a negative cycle. However, families that successfully develop leaders within their ranks focus on affirming strengths. Pay attention to what each person does well. Then, cultivate that to a level of expertise. In other words, help their good get better. As you affirm strengths you build self-confidence for your family members and further cement a listen habit in your home.

  3. B – Believe Bigger: Families that develop leaders have one thing in common. They liberally share encouragement with one another. Encouragement is fertilizer for the human soul. It is pushing one another to next level of performance through affirmation not guilt or other punitive measures. Humans have a profound ability to rise to the level of expectation of those they trust. If you believe your spouse and children will accomplish and become more, they likely will.

  4. I – Invest Emotionally: Listening is an act of empathy—an emotion. It is putting yourself in the proverbial shoes of another in order to truly understand his heart. When we emotionally invest in family members’ wants and needs we demonstrate the depth of our concern verbally and non-verbally. Emotional investment knits hearts around a shared goal—reaching one’s true potential.

  5. T – Talk Last: The last tactic in developing the listen habit in your home is to talk less. Talking is overrated. The key to leading your home is not in talking more. It is in listening more. If you make more efforts to let others do the talking you are going to learn so much more about them (and possibly about yourself too). When you are talking, it is likely that others aren’t. When you are talking, you are probably paying less attention to the other person’s non-verbals. When you are talking, you are less able to fully consider what is going on around you. Talking gets in the way. If you talk last, people will increasingly value what you say.

So, there you have the five tactical steps to develop the listen habit in your home. Leave me a comment to share your thoughts.

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