Quick to Hear, But Slow to Speak

It’s amazing how adaptable people are. Many men and women successfully change jobs or even careers, move to other states or countries, take up new hobbies and projects, or engage in some other form of adaptation in their lives. Yet the same people can be married for decades and never learn how to communicate with their spouses. Here is an important key that helps explain why that happens:

Husbands and wives must learn to speak how the other person listens.

Let me explain what I mean. I am by nature a very passionate person, and one of the first places this manifests itself is in my communication. To this day, my wife will sometimes say to me while we are having a conversation, “Why are you getting so loud? Are you mad?” It used to make me mad when she would ask if I was mad, but it didn’t matter what I thought. Our conversation was over because she doesn’t listen that way.

If it seems like you and your spouse are speaking two different languages, you are: “man-ish” and “woman-ish”! Each must learn how to speak in the way that the other listens. Many of us are familiar with the term selective hearing. This is a finely tuned craft developed by male veterans of marriage. Actually, ladies, your husbands seem to tune you out because they are bottom-line communicators. Yes, they need to use more words with you than they do with the guys, but you also have to be sensitive to their bottom-line style of communication.

We’ll discuss the topic of handling conflict in a later chapter, but it’s worth taking a brief stop there now. James 1:19–20 tells us, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (NKJV). The Greek word for “swift” is tachus, which can also be translated “ready.” God has given us two ears and one mouth. Could it be that we should be twice as ready to listen as we are to speak? I think that’s a good assumption. Most of us, however, tend to be more ready to speak than we are to listen. And even when we do listen, we hear only those things we want to hear, like “It’s time for dinner” versus “It’s time to take out the trash.” (There’s that selective-hearing thing!)

Men, if your wife says, “You never listen to me,” is she telling the truth? It is highly likely that she is, and you need to honor the way God has designed her and listen to her. Ladies, as we said a moment ago, guys are masters at checking out in the middle of the conversation, but instead of getting mad at your husband, tell him how important the subject is to you, and ask him to please listen for a moment. You’ll catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar. (If you don’t know what that means, ask someone who’s been happily married a while!)

In Psalm 81:13–14, God said, “Oh, that my people would listen to me! Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths! How quickly I would then subdue their enemies! How soon my hands would be upon their foes!” Obviously, great power is released when we heed the voice of the Lord. He wants us to grasp this great truth. In a similar way, I believe, a couple who truly learns the art of listening unleashes a powerful force that ripples out from their home like a pebble cast into a pond.

Too often, however, we ignore the importance of listening to our spouse. When our mate is speaking, we use the time to prepare our rebuttal instead of stilling our heart to listen and understand what our spouse is trying to communicate. Effective communication is learned behavior, so with a little effort, we can learn the priority of being quick to hear but slow to speak. Along that line is another important communication tip for you to remember:

Nothing is ever learned while you are speaking.

There is a Spanish proverb that says two great talkers will not travel far together. Why is that true? Because half of communication is listening. Have you ever seen people in a verbal altercation who are simply trying to outtalk each other? They look pretty silly, don’t they? But it’s more than silly in the home—it’s ugly and even damaging. For you who are just starting out in marriage, like the other things we have mentioned along the way, master this and you’ll save yourself a lot of strife.

Have you ever noticed how you can’t hear anything when you yawn? There is a bit of a lesson there to recognize: mouth open, ears shut. If the goal of communication is to learn what pleases your mate and how he or she listens, then it will be hard for you to learn those things if you’re always the keynote speaker in your home.

I want to bring in some balance here lest you come away with the wrong idea. You are who God has made you, and there is room for your personality type in His kingdom. If we look the apostles as a collective group, we will find among them the quick-to-speak Peter as well as his quiet, consistent brother Andrew. Jesus chose them both, so He obviously saw value in both styles and accepted both. Be who you are and let your spouse be who God created them to be, but both of you learn from each other.

I think this point is best illustrated by the story of a young girl approaching her wedding day who was notorious for letting her nerves get the best of her. As the day of the wedding rehearsal arrived, she expressed her concerns to the wedding coordinator, who shared her usual counsel for nervous brides. She advised the young woman, “When you come to the back of the church, just focus on one thing at a time. Remember, walk to the end of aisle, past the altar, and to your soon-to-be husband.”

The next day, as the nervous young bride walked down the aisle, the weddings guests heard her repeating to herself as she passed by, “Aisle, altar, him . . . aisle, altar, him . . .” (“I’ll alter him!”) Yes, there are adaptations to be made in every marriage, but the goal of one is not to alter the other.

Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (NIV). If you’re wise, you will listen to your spouse, and from that listening you will learn. As you seek to communicate in your marriage, never forget the listening portion. The goal of communication is to understand, not to get your point across.

Excerpt from “Happily… Even After” now available on Amazon.

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