So your back home from being motivated and super charged at the last EMB conference. Feeling super charged spiritually? Ready to talk? ‘Hey honey let me share what happened and what I just learned!’ Her response of ‘un-huh, but what about me?’ should not surprise you. How you respond with any information shared from your wife will be vitally important. It is in the healing of the relationship that the events of the past behavior may be in the past historically but not emotionally. In such, healing for the relationship will come through periods of communication super charged with a sensitivity fruit cocktail of caution, fear, hurt, grief, despair (shall I go on?).
The keys many men miss in the opportunity and recovery of the relationship are the components of truly listening to your wife. She too, has a story to tell and an experience to process.
The reality is that the relationship is changed and you cannot go back to the old manners in communication with your wife (and behavior for that matter). For it was in that old nature of communication that deception and manipulation was nourished. On this side of the coin, your communication model should be based in love and grace (in speaking and listening). In the construction of listening there are three strong skills to listening to your wife. Before they are detailed, let it be known that problem solving (Mr. Fix-it) is not the top of the list for listening skills. Research has shown that when the primary components of listening are worked through first, then problem solving and resolution has a higher probability for success.
Think of it this way, we have been given two ears and one mouth. A good probable reason is so we will listen twice as much as we speak.
Listening is not a matter of making the comment back, ‘so what I hear you say is” or ‘I understand.’ Or worse is the appearance of listening while preparing for a rebuttal, ‘I see honey, and I understand, BUT’.’ Do you want to continue super charging the communication level through defensiveness? Because this last example is one sure way of doing it. Or do you want to change the engagement of the communication patterns to a deeper level of intimacy? Your options; continue the old patterns of super charged communications or create the change in your response behavior. And that is typically a good spot to start. Any change in one of you will create a change in the relationship.
The three primary components of productive listening are attend, acknowledge and inviting. Attending has three sub factors: look at the person talking to you, listen to what they are saying (not what your mind is thinking and feeling), and track what they are saying. Acknowledging is about reflecting back through brief statements the thoughts and feelings being heard and understood. And this does not mean a lengthy sentence. Think of acknowledging your spouse with simple words as she shares, such as ‘wow, that is sad, how awful, mad, disappointed, how exciting’etc.’ Inviting is about when you see that your wife is holding back on sharing, and you know that look and feeling, you simple say something to the affect of: ‘keep going,’ ‘tell me more,’ ‘I am with you, please continue,’ or ‘Is anything else you want me to know?’
These skills (attend, acknowledge and invite) give the opportunity to listen to your spouse through love and grace. Notice there was nothing about giving feedback or fixing what was being shared by the other. But more importantly time to allow your spouse to experience the thoughts and feelings without correction, distraction or manipulation.
It is important to know that communication of thoughts and feelings should never be expressed through physical aggression. Appropriate boundaries may need to be set if either one of you have such difficulty. It is also just as important that listening to your spouse may appear to be verbally abusive when in reality she is inviting you into her world of thoughts and feelings of pain, depression, anger’.
In communication there are two words that are recommended to avoid or use cautiously: why & you. Both have at their base a probable result of discord and passive aggressive communication. These two words all too frequently create defensiveness even if such is not meant. Yes there are alternatives that create an opportunity for clarity. Instead of using ‘why,’ try using ‘honey can you help me understand what you meant by’.’ In regards to using ‘you’ statements, it is best to not start a sentence with it such as ‘you should,’ ‘you said” ‘you are not making sense because’.’ Instead, as silly as it may sound, focus on using a ‘you’ later in your statements while responding with the pronoun of ‘I.’ Such as, ‘There is no way I can truly understand the pain I have put you through and I want to support you through this the best that I can. It pains me to know I have caused you so much hurt in your heart.’
In all, these skills are to build empathy and intimacy with your wife. The thoughts and feelings of the relationship will ebb and flow as the issues are worked through. The communication problem solving steps will have to be another article. But for now, it is important to clarify that when your wife is not attended to, acknowledged, or invited to share more of what they have on their heart and mind, the common experience and sense of feeling ‘crazy’ overcomes your spouse. Let me stress again that in listening to the communication from any person is the pathway to inviting you into their world as they experience it. Listening is sitting there with them, feeling and experiencing the world that person lives in. If the information being shared is abused, made fun of, not attended, acknowledged or invited to expound upon, one will commonly shut down. Listening is truly about following not leading. If you want to super charge the intimacy of communication, practice the basic skills of listening.