Are You Listening?

A couple months ago, I had the pleasure of attending a leadership conference where John C. Maxwell was one of the keynote speakers.

Though his talk was primarily about leadership within the workplace, he made a profound statement that I believe applied to so many areas of our lives, especially marriage.

“If you stop listening to people in your life telling you difficult things, eventually they stop talking to you.”

Read that again. Marinate in it for a moment. Can you think of a situation or relationship in your life where this has happened?

Maybe you shared a concern with a friend and instead of listening to you or accepting your constructive criticism or advice, they chose to step away from the relationship?

Maybe you take difficult discussions very personally and become wounded to the point where you protect yourself from any further conversation in that arena.

Maybe you are “quick to the draw” and want to defend yourself or your actions immediately rather than even hear the person out?

For the first half of our marriage, I had a very hard time taking any kind of criticism from Steve. I would get really hurt or super defensive. I could barely hear what he was saying…and most of the time, I wouldn’t even let him get his words out completely. I felt like I was being attacked, even with the smallest of things.

Eventually, he just stopped talking to me about anything that bothered him. Guess where that got us? In a heap of resentment and hurt that nearly cost us our marriage.

We both know that there were several factors that caused the breakdown of our marriage. But this was a big one. Steve didn’t think he could talk to me about what he believed were problems in our marriage. Much of the reason he believed that was because I was a terrible listener.

It wasn’t until God humbled me and showed me, through so many others with failures in the Bible, that I was a sinful human.  I was going to continue to make mistakes. (and that God has already forgiven me!)   Gradually, I started to see what Steve had been trying to tell me for so many years.  But I needed God’s help to see it.

When we are a true follower of Jesus, we see things differently.

We don’t mind being humbled. (Or at least, not as much). We WANT to see the error of our ways so we can improve and become more like Jesus.

Without Jesus, we are just selfish people who want things the way we want them.

Who are we living for if we are not living for God?

SELF. Plain and simple.

Our selfishness and our defensiveness of our actions comes naturally when we are not following God.

In a God-centered, thriving marriage, spouses can speak calmly and listen well to difficult things. And they keep doing it. They don’t shy away from the hard stuff, because they know that God will equip them to work through it. And they have a strong desire to follow His will for their lives, which includes keeping a loving, unified marriage.

Does this mean you should finally unload all your grievances on your spouse? Should you share your list of “issues” that you have been keeping for the last couple years?

Take it slow. Each of us respond differently to difficult conversation.

A first step? Decide together HOW you want to have this type of conversation.

Steve tends to have a limit on how long these talks can last. If they get too drawn out and lengthy, he fades. So, I try to respect his need for (sometimes several) short conversations, rather than one, long talk.

Next.  Find out WHEN and WHERE would be best.

I have a hard time focusing and listening when there are distractions around. So, Steve will make a point of asking for my full attention or for us to remove ourselves from a room in our home that distracts me.

Don’t forget the WHY.

Why are you having this conversation?

Hopefully, it’s because you love your spouse and you want your marriage to be better….or something along those lines. So, make sure you express that. Remember, you are on the same team! This is not a time to shoot arrows at your spouse. This is a time to help your team grow and learn and unify.

Be flexible.

Guess what? Sometimes, you might be wrong.

Sometimes that difficult thing was just a misunderstanding. Sometimes you are the one who will need to share your faults and even an apology. Don’t sweep any of this under the rug. These are the moments that we grow.

Friends, be prepared to listen. Even to the difficult things. We want you guys to keep talking to each other.

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