In your marriage, have you found yourself in a situation where you’re trying to communicate with your spouse, but his or her body language is telling you that there isn’t a whole lot of listening going on —that your words are bouncing around but no one is mentally “home” to receive them? Yep! Been there! And I’m sure the reverse is true as well for my husband (even though I don’t want to admit it).
Authors, Dr. Dallas and Nancy Demmitt, in their book, “Can You Hear Me Now?” tell of Eric and Carole and their communication escapade concerning this issue. Maybe you can relate:
“Carole had been trying to get Eric to listen to her all day. He rolled his eyes and put the paper down and said to her, ‘Okay, I’ll listen.” She then said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Sounding defensive he said, ‘what do you mean; what’s wrong with me? I’m listening. Let’s have it. What do you want to say?’ She stomped out of the room in anger. Eric, confused, walked after her saying, ‘Hey, I was willing to listen. What’s your problem?'”
The “problem” is the “mental barrier” that seems to be blocking this couple from connecting with each other in a positive way. The Demmit’s write, referring to Eric, say, “His lips said one thing, but his nonverbal communication gave a different message: ‘Don’t bother me.'”
Have you found yourselves in a similar situation? Here’s what Dallas and Nancy write, concerning this issue, that you might prayerfully consider:
“When you’re in the midst of a conflict, your body has a way of ‘telling on you.’ It leaks information that you may not want it to say. Sometimes you’re not even aware that it’s evident to anyone else. For example, Eric was unaware that his nonverbal expressions conflicted with his words. His body language seemed to say, ‘Leave me alone,’ though his actual words were ‘I’m listening.’
“Carol responded in a natural manner. When someone is deciding which message is the truth —the actual words or what you see, and the tone of voice —research shows most people respond to the NON-verbal message. Carole walked away feeling hurt and angry concerning the tone of Eric’s voice and the way he rolled his eyes.
“The reason we don’t recognize the impact of our tone of voice is that we hear what we FEEL like, not what we SOUND like.”
“Eric used words to say he was ready to talk, but his body language didn’t agree with his words. The first step in the skill of focusing involves determining, ‘Am I able to focus right now?’ and ‘Do I want to listen right now?’ If you don’t want to listen, it’s better to communicate this reluctance rather than send a mixed message, which leaves both participants feeling hurt and confused.
“Eric could have said something like, ‘My head is not into hearing you right now, Carole. It’s nothing personal. I’m just bummed out at the moment. Give me 20 minutes to regroup and I’m all yours.’ If Eric had used this type of message, Carole wouldn’t have to wonder which message to choose —what he said or what he did. And she could choose to respond differently.
“Possibly Carole could have offered to listen to Eric for a short time and help him deal with his bummed-out feelings (if that is what he would have needed). And if later in the day Eric doesn’t offer to talk, Carole can ask for a specific time when his head and his heart are ready to listen.
“Because listening requires your full attention and adequate energy, tell the speaker if you’re too tired to do justice to what he/she wants to say to you. Listening is hard work and requires heavy concentration along with committed energy. One element that causes fatigue for the listener is that you can process information at around 300 – 500 words per minute. Speakers, however, can only talk about 200 words per minute. Therefore your mind tends to wander —daydreaming, going on mental tangents, or working on other pressing issues in your life.
“If you’re too tired or distracted at the moment the speaker wants to talk then SAY so (in a polite, respectful manner). No one, except God, can always be on call for listening. (And if you’re the speaker, give them the grace needed. You may want to receive that same grace, some day.) The important thing is that you know how to listen and are committed to using your skills in the relationship.
“Tell the speaker that you want to hear him (or her), but at a later time. Then schedule a specific time when you’ll be available. If you’re rarely, or never, available to listen, perhaps the relationship isn’t a high enough priority in your life” (as it should be).
The Demmitt’s also tell about the importance of body language and an “open posture and eye contact,” because as much as 93 per cent of the message the speaker will give is nonverbal communication” so you’ll need to see as well as hear what the speaker is saying.”
Also, “touch may not be appropriate in many settings, but when the speaker is someone close to you (as your spouse should be), touch can be very reassuring.” Something else to consider is that appropriate “touch makes it more difficult to maintain anger.”
The Demmitt’s add,
“On occasion we’ve asked angry married partners to sit back to back, leaning against each other while they take turns talking and listening to one another. This can help break down some of the hostility they’ve been transmitting to each other nonverbally, while also connecting them emotionally and physically through touch.”
Why not try this method yourselves and see if it’s helpful in your relationship? It’s important that each of you CAN and DO hear each other when it’s needed, to build up your relationship rather than tear it and each other down. “Mental barriers” need to be broken down.
The Bible teaches us that those who are mature will “speak the truth in love” rather than allow our understanding to be “darkened.” It also tells us to “take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We’ve all heard that advice, & intellectually most of us would agree. It’s actually making that happen which is difficult. It takes intentionality.
“Let the wise listen and to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” -Proverbs 1:5.
“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” –Proverbs 12:15.
“He who answers before listening —that is his folly and his shame” –Proverbs 18:13.
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out” -Proverbs 18:15.
If you need additional help in this area of your marriage, we have many articles posted on our web site in the various Topic sections, such as Communication and Conflict, Communication Tools, etc., as well as Comment sections under each article, where you can encourage others, ask for encouragement, ask for prayer and such.
We hope this information will help you live with each other in respectful, considerate Christ-honoring ways “regarding each other as more important than yourself,” as we’re told in the Bible.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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