I have often heard it said that, as Americans, we don’t listen to understand; we listen to respond. You know how it goes; when the entire time the other person is talking you’re thinking about the reasons they’re wrong and how you’re going to prove it. (Not that I have any personal experience doing this, of course.) I believe this is a distinct struggle we have in our marriages, so over the next little bit, I would like us to consider…

  1. Why do we communicate this way?
  2. How can we overcome this destructive habit?

To begin with, let’s consider why we listen to respond instead of listening to understand. For many of us, I believe that as a society, we have confusion in understanding and agreeing. We believe that after we made an impassioned statement and the other person still didn’t agree with us, they clearly didn’t really listen. After all, we have good reasons for our beliefs and feelings! If they just understood why we think and feel that way, they would realize that and agree! Conversely, I think we are often afraid that if we truly listen to the other person, they might make some good points, and we might change our minds. Or if we communicate understandingly, they might think we agree even though we don’t and really don’t want to risk it.

These are natural concerns, but we need to realize there is a significant difference in understanding what someone is trying to communicate and agreeing with them. Along these lines, especially in our marriages, we frequently skip this vital step. When we are having a disagreement with our husband, we want to jump straight to getting them to agree with us, but we really need to make sure that we both feel heard and understood first.

I Peter 3:7 is a passage that I have not often heard taught. It reads,

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Anything that runs the risk of hindering prayers is something that should be taken very seriously! While this is specifically directed to the husbands (after instructions for wives to be submissive), I think we understand that this does not give us license as wives not to try to be understanding with our husbands.

The act of understanding is almost miraculous in a relationship. When you feel truly heard and understood, it creates a significant feeling of validation, which is a game changer. In my counseling office, I’ve seen arguments that have lasted years end almost instantaneously in a way that neither spouse cared about agreement anymore, simply because they felt heard and validated for the first time on the subject.

So, how do we achieve this miraculous outcome? The most effective way is a process we call reflective listening. It slows down conversations and feels a little awkward at first because, once again, we have unhealthy communication habits we need to break, but it works!

Reflective listening is exactly what it sounds like when you’re having a serious conversation. After every few sentences, repeat what the other person has been saying in your own words. The key is that you want to strive to truly understand how they are feeling and why, not just robotically repeat back their exact words. A very basic example:

Wife: “I can’t believe you forgot to take out the trash again! I’ve talked to you about this so many times, but it’s like you don’t even care! I don’t even know why I bother anymore.”

Husband: “So what I’m hearing you say is that you’ve told me a lot that it’s important to you that I take out the trash, and because I still didn’t do it, you feel like what you need isn’t important to me, and I don’t care?”

Another example:

Husband: “I told you I would mow the yard, and I’ll mow the yard! You don’t have to keep bringing it up every single day like I’m a child!”

Wife: “So what I’m hearing you say is that you heard me ask you to mow the yard, and you know it’s important to me, so I need to trust you to get it done. And when I keep reminding you like that, you feel like I’m disrespecting you and basically treating you like a child?”

Then the wife has the opportunity to say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean!” Or, “No, that’s not what I meant at all,” and she can try again. The goal is for the listener to understand accurately what the speaker is trying to communicate. (This is taught thoroughly, using the speaker/listener technique, through the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program training seminar.)

It’s so simple, and truly, it doesn’t take all that much time, but making sure we fully understand what the other person is trying to communicate before we respond will automatically make them feel validated, respected, and important to us. In reality, this is how we want everyone to feel when they talk to us. My husband and I strive to use reflective listening not only with each other but at work, with our kids, and even teaching Bible classes. In fact, it’s pretty amazing because this is also how our kiddos have learned to communicate with each other when they’re upset. Guess what? It works for them, too!

While 1 Peter 3:7 is specifically written to husbands, I know that as wives, it’s important to us that we understand our husbands as well. Over the next week, be intentional about using reflective listening. It may take a little practice to get it “right,” and it will take even longer for it to come naturally, but that’s perfectly fine. When communicating with your husband, be intentional about listening to understand and see if it impacts the way your husband responds. May God bless you as you strive to glorify Him in your marriage.

Lacy Crowell
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Lacy Crowell is the Dean of Students at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson, TN. She has been married to the love of her life, Jonathan, for over 20 years. They are blessed with four amazing kiddos whom Lacy has had the privilege of homeschooling. She has also served alongside her husband in full-time ministry for 15 years.  She is a graduate of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her great joy is working to help others become excited about studying God’s word, and helping couples thrive in their marriages. She is a member of the Come Fill Your Cup team and the author of two Bible study books for women: Proclaimed – Jesus the Messiah which is a study of the Gospel of Mark, and Pursued – God’s Plan for Intimacy in Marriage: a study of the Song of Solomon.