We just celebrated 10 years of marriage for my wife and I. As I was looking back through some old photos from dating, our wedding, honeymoon, lots of weekend adventures, the birth of our kids, I felt this great sense of pride, but I also remembered when we were challenged in our commitment to each other. 2 houses later, a handful of jobs, and 2 kids, it feels like we have really grown up and grown together as a couple. But that’s not been without its share of bumps and bruises along the way for both of us, learning to live and love each other “in spite of ourselves.”
Years 5 to 8 were especially challenging for me personally as I battled through some career and health issues that really stretched me, made me take a hard look in the mirror, and in some ways had to re-invent myself and my work as a result of that. Those challenges really bled into our marriage and my wife was challenged as well in her commitment to me as there were a lot of days I just wasn’t very lovable.
10 years ago, when I walked down the aisle on my wedding day I thought marriage was more about two people coming together who love each other and are compatible and wanted “do life together”. But while that is still true today, marriage is also about two sinful, selfish people learning to listen to each other and come to a resolution even when they don’t agree. Marriage is about learning what the other person wants and knowing what you want and still coming together to move forward.
Sometimes you get what you want in a marriage. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get more than could ever imagine. Sometimes you get far less. But the key in all of it is listening and continuing to communicate through those ups and downs.
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Confession time: I’m not always a very good listener in my marriage. In fact, sometimes I’m a much better listener at work than I am at home. And the truth is while I’ve got a whole lot better at it over the years, I’ve still got a long way to go. Listening is challenging. Especially when you are prideful like I can be sometimes. While my wife and I love to do a lot of things together, we are still two very different people with strong opinions.
One thing I now know is that if I seek to understand my spouse’s point of view, BEFORE expecting to have mine understood, my marriage seems to end up a lot better. When I say understand, I don’t mean I have to agree or go along with my spouse’s point of view on every decision. I believe both the husband and the wife need to lead and stand firm on certain issues for the good of the marriage. But in a marriage, you live under the same roof and you have to do your best to understand where each other are coming from to move forward TOGETHER in unity.
Why Spouses Sometimes Neglect to Understand Each Other
Here’s an example of what sometimes happens in our home and when I don’t seek to understand my wife. When my wife asks me to do something, sometimes she expects me to do it right away. An example of this recently was that my wife wanted me to clean out some beds in our backyard as we prepare for a big neighborhood party. I told her I had a few other projects I needed to get to first around the house including mowing the lawn, edging the sidewalks and having to move some boxes for my parents who are in the middle of a move. But how I said it was not very nice. I was annoyed that she couldn’t see the other tasks I had at hand. I fired back saying something like “Can’t you see I’m busy right now, why don’t you do it?”
In the moment I felt like my wife didn’t value what I was doing and didn’t understand how hard I was working. My wife felt like I didn’t value her request as she had her hands full helping our young kids around the house and tending to laundry and dinner preparation (which I neglected to notice in my annoyance).
Neither spouse is to blame for the issue at hand or what needs to get done. But both of us were guilty of not seeking to understand why we want something done in a certain way and in what timeframe.
One thing we’ve learned over the years is active listening. Here are some common yet UNCOMMEN ways to improve listening in your marriage (or any relationship).
1. STOP: Stop what you are doing and focus on what they are saying.
2. EYE CONTACT: Look your partner in the eye and avoid distractions.
3. LISTEN WITH YOUR EARS, NOT YOUR MOUTH: Listen without opening your mouth, interrupting, responding with advice, or firing back quickly. Just listen.
4. REPHRASE OR REPEAT: “What I hear you saying is _______” and repeat back what they said to make sure you heard it correctly.
5. DOUBLE CHECK: When you are in a tough conversation or complex emotions are being shared, it’s important to clarify again to ensure there is no misunderstanding between you both.
6. USE EMPATHY: Seek to understand your spouse’s viewpoint they are describing, even if that is difficult to understand. Sometimes it’s best to just listen, not give any advice.