Monthly Archives: August 2015

Possibly my WORST trait as a husband…

active-listeningI stink at listening.  Seriously…I’m bad at it.  USUALLY, when someone introduces themselves to me, I’ve forgotten their name 2 seconds later…I’m not exaggerating.  I wrote a couple months ago about how I’ve been trying to work at listening when I’m BUSY, but there is so much more to this issue to work on.

I’ve recently realized how my poor listening skills can really hurt my relationship with my wife.  For us to have a great relationship, we need to be able to communicate.  But, for communication to work, there needs to be good talking AND listening from both parties.  If I don’t give her attention when she speaks, and if I don’t attempt to really understand what she’s trying to say, then I am telling her that I don’t really care about what she wants to communicate.

Recently, I started reading a book called The Lost Art Of Listening.  It has been so good for me to help identify areas I need to work on.  In addition to listening when I’m busy, I’ve been working on the following areas.  Do any of these sound familiar to you?

1. Zoning out:  Sometimes I start off so great.  Someone is talking…I’m listening…everything is perfect!  But then, I think about something from work…or a tv show I watched…or dinner.  And then, I realize that I have no idea what was just said over the last minute!  Does this happen to anyone else?!  And then the worst happens…”so what do you think?”  Oh man…I don’t even know what the question was!  Forget about being embarrassed by being caught not paying attention, the real shame is that I missed a chance to learn something they wanted to share with me.

2. Thinking about what I want to say next:  I’m guilty of this WAY too much.  It seems like a practical thing to do in order to keep a conversation going smoothly…am I right, or am I right?  But, I find that usually when I’m thinking about this, I COMPLETELY miss the rest of what they’re trying to share.  I’ve been trying to stay present more.  I know that If I lose my train of thought…that’s ok.  A lull in the conversation is not the ultimate doom that I always though it was…it’s ok.  It’s much better to hear what they’re saying and to go from there.

3. Trying to solve the problem rather than listen:  Yeah this is like EVERY DAY!  I don’t know why it is, but if there is a problem, my reaction is ALWAYS to give advice to fix it.  After 12 years of marriage, I realize that Julia doesn’t want me to solve her problems, she wants me to listen and understand.  I still don’t quite get it…but I’ve learned to accept it.

4. Hearing words, but not the meaning behind them:  If Julia and I both hear someone say something, it’s very common for us to come away with 2 totally different perspectives on what they just said.  (Spoiler alert…she’s usually right)  Julia has an uncanny ability to understand people in ways I just don’t.  So, given my lack of intuition, I find that I often hear things Julia says to me, but make wrong assumptions about what she’s trying to communicate.  I’ve been trying to use the phrase, “…so what I hear you saying is…”.  This is very helpful in summarizing what I THINK she’s saying.  This gives her the chance to either correct me if I didn’t connect with her meaning…or it allows her to go deeper in sharing more.

5. Doing other things while listening:  I like being productive.  If I’m having a conversation with someone that is not very deep, chance are I’m trying to do something else during it, like doing something on the computer, or putting away dishes, or something.  It’s not that I’m in the middle of something, it’s just that talking takes time, and then I think of all the other things I could be doing with that time!  The problem is that doing this shows the other person that I’m not THAT interested in what they’re saying.  This could be ok if I’m talking about a tv show, or what happened at work that day.  But, if I’m talking about something important, it doesn’t go over well.  In situations like this, I’ve been trying to listen with my body.  By this I mean, facing my body to them, not doing anything else, and making eye contact.

None of these things come naturally to me, so it has been quite a challenge.  But, I have to tell you that just thinking about them has made practicing listening SO much easier, and has really changed my actions A LOT.  As a result, I’ve found a MUCH better connection to Julia!  It’s amazing how good communication can grow a relationship!  :-)

My advice to you:

If you struggle with listening as I do, I encourage you to think if any of these points I made sound familiar to you.  If they do, start trying to make small changes in how you communicate with your wife or anyone you talk with.  If you enjoy reading, I encourage you to check out The Lost Art of Listening.

4 words never to say to your wife…

aTqb45nTMOk, imagine you’re debating with your wife over the best way to pack your car for a road trip.  She wants to put the cooler in the back because it’s the flattest place and you’ll be able to keep all the contents level.  But, you disagree.  You want to put it in the middle, that way it will be easily accessible.  Since you’ve both been packing and loading the car, you’re a little on edge.  You’re stressed and sweaty and start to argue about the all important cooler placement.  Finally to avoid confrontation, you say “FINE, we’ll put it in the back!”  You don’t think it is best, but you don’t want to fight anymore.

A few hours down the road, your wife is thirsty and wants a drink from the cooler.  You respond with a slight air of smugness that she can’t get one because it’s back in the back.  But, she’s really thirsty, and asks if you can pull over.  So, you pull over on the shoulder of the interstate and go open the trunk.  But you still can’t get to it so you have to unload a few bags first.  Finally, you get to the cooler, get out a drink, re-load the bags you moved, and come back around to the front.

As you hand her the drink you have an important decision to make.  What do you say??  I’m going to give you some choices:

  • “I told you we should have put the cooler in the middle!”
  • “Don’t you wish we hadn’t put that in the back now?”
  • “Well, that was annoying!”
  • “Next time, I’m just going to pack the car myself.”
  • Say nothing, but silently indicate that you’re not happy

The best response is…NONE OF THESE!  These are all the WORST!  You feel wronged…I get that.  Yes, your opinion to put the cooler in the middle may have been better, and now you’ve been inconvenienced.  But, nothing is gained by pointing this out to your wife.  Mostly likely she is KEENLY aware of the fact that your idea would actually have been better.  She doesn’t need you to point it out.  By doing so, you’re rubbing it in her face.  This tells her that you think you’re better and you want her to know it, and you don’t care how she feels…as long as she knows you’re right!!

But, what if she gives no indication that she realizes the error of her packing ways.  She is completely clueless to the egregious error she made.  What do you do then???  NOTHING…except get her the darn drink, hand it to her with a genuine smile and ask if there is anything else you can get for her!  You DON’T need to be right.  You DON’T need to point out when she was wrong.  The accomplishes nothing except a feeling of superiority on your part.

Now, imagine you’re on the flip side of this.  Let’s say YOU were the one who wanted to put the cooler in the back, and it becomes apparent that your wife’s opinion was a better one.  TAKE THE HIGH ROAD.  Nothing will make your wife feel better than you saying, “You know what?  Your idea to put the cooler in the middle WAS a better idea.  I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you.”  How awesome would THAT be!!  There is nothing lost by saying this.  It prevents you from perpetuating tension, and shows her you can be humble.  And it acknowledges to her that you feel she has valuable things to offer.

My challenge to you:

These 4 words, “I told you so” need to be completely taken out of your vocabulary.  If you were right, forget about it.  There is nothing to be gained by rubbing it in your wife’s face.  And if you realize you are wrong, admit it.

Something I want to change about myself

imageI think I am a pretty funny guy.  But, not really in the sense you would normally think.  I’m a pretty introverted person who stays quiet in large groups.  But, in smaller settings, I’m often ready to unload with amusing quips.  What’s strange is that I do best in improper locations like hospitals or funeral homes.  It drives Julia crazy.  I’m always whispering things to her that at least I find to be hilarious.  Often I have to tell them to her after the fact so as not to be too inappropriate.

But, I also find this happens in serious conversations.  In general I’m not very good at talking about feelings or serious topics of importance.  My eyes start to go dry like they do in shopping malls.  It’s medically proven…I’m not making it up.  Basically I zone out for a bit.  But…I still listen, and every once in a while I think of something hilarious to say and BOOM, I drop it.  It’s great.  Then, I go dormant for a while until BOOM…another zinger!  So, when all is said and done, there has been an awesome conversation about…something…interrupted intermittently by me trying to be funny.  Mission accomplished!…right?

Now, as funny as I think I’m being…I’m really not that funny.  It’s probably actually more annoying than anything.  And what I find is that when I’m trying to be funny, I leave no impact of significance on others.  I WANT to be able to have meaningful conversations with my wife and others.  I WANT to be able to encourage people and make a difference in their lives.  But, when the only substance I offer is jokes, I’m failing miserably.

So, I’m working on it.  I’m working on being real.  I’m working on listening.  There is nothing wrong with saying funny things.  I just don’t want it to be all that I offer of myself.  So my challenge to myself, and anyone else who may fall into this category, is to remember to be real.  Developing a real relationship with your wife or other people takes conversations of substance.  For me, this requires effort.  If you’re the same way, I encourage you to work on it too.