If you and your spouse argue a lot or do not communicate in a way you feel is healthy for your relationship, you may want to try empathic listening so you can figure out what is really bothering your spouse and communicate better. Practicing empathic listening is difficult, and you really need to commit to it, but if your marriage is worth it to you, you really need to make the effort. The following explains what empathic listening is, how it relates to being a true Christian, and how it can help you in your marriage.
Listen Like a True Christian
Empathic listening involves much more than just hearing the words a person is speaking to you. Empathy encompasses love, respect and an earnest effort to understand what the speaker means. If you are angry at your spouse or bitter about something he or she has said or done to you, it is very difficult to filter his or her words through your anger and reach a true understanding of what your spouse is saying to you, and what he or she really feels.
In the New Testament, James the apostle said, "This you know, my beloved brethren, but everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." (James 1:19). This implies that anger drives out love and listening. When you are trying to speak your piece, you are not listening to what your spouse has to say. It takes patience, forgiveness, open-mindedness, and a suspension of your anger to listen to your spouse and feel what he or she feels.
Listening empathically improves trust and understanding. You must be willing to temporarily forgo your own personal feelings if you are hurt or angry, so that you can listen without judgment and without forming a defensive response in your own mind. Really, you should not be forming any response at all, except maybe rephrasing what you think your spouse means by what he or she is saying. You must first seek to understand, and then be understood.
Skills to Practice
Talk with your marriage counselor, and if you do not have one, seek one who was trained in a Christian counseling program, so that he or she will emphasize the role of Christianity in your marriage. A Christian counselor will have the background knowledge of scriptures and know that Christians need to practice empathic listening and all it entails.
There are many ways to improve your empathic listening skills, such as paying attention to nonverbal communication. If your spouse is saying one thing, but you suspect that he or she means something different, learn to draw his or her true feelings out, by helping him or her feel comfortable and loved enough to open up and share deep feelings.
You as the listener, need to make your spouse feel like you truly care about what he or she has to say, and that his or her feelings are important to you.
An exercise you can try on your own would be to write down everything your spouse says to you throughout the course of a day. Do not write it down during the conversation, but right afterwards. This exercise will force you to listen, and in writing it down you can think about what your spouse is saying to you.
Again, having a third party, like a counselor, observe your conversation and guide you in learning better listening skills can greatly increase your ability to listen empathically. Find a counselor you trust, and who shares your religious convictions (like those at The Center for Family Counseling, Inc.), so that you can learn to be a loving, Christian spouse.
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