Can You Hear Me Now? – Marriage Message #124

Photo by Ambro,
Photo by Ambro,

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.

We’re told:

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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3 responses to “Can You Hear Me Now? – Marriage Message #124

  1. (SOUTH AFRICA)  Hi Cindy, Thanks for the uplifting post. I am at a point in my marriage, where I struggle with my husband to communicate. He never listens when I talk to him. As a matter of fact I get so frustrated with him, that we end up fighting. Please pray for me Cindy as I don’t know what to do anymore.

    1. Hi Brenda, I’m sad for you that you are struggling so much in your marriage — especially in being able to communicate with your husband (I’ve been there and it’s disheartening). They say that communication is the life-blood of marriage — especially when it is good, because it keeps things moving in a positive direction. When one “partner” shuts down, the other is left dangling, not knowing what to do, as you say you are experiencing right now.

      Brenda, I have to say that I’m not really sure what you CAN do. All I can tell you is what comes to mind as I pray for you. God knows and He can direct you on this. And I don’t say this lightly. That is not a glib answer that I’m giving you to make things sound nice and tidy. The Holy Spirit is our Wonderful Counselor. He is the One who can guide you in this. What comes to mind to write to you is to encourage you to take a step back. Ask God to direct your steps forward in this. Whatever you have been doing in the past is obviously not working — whether it would seem like it should have improved things or not. If it gets to the point of fighting where nothing results in a positive way, it becomes pointless to continue doing the same thing.

      I would take a step back and ask God for guidance, continually… and don’t stop (even if you don’t see positive results for a long, long time). Fasting and praying is a great step in this. And as you are praying, ask God to teach you His ways rather than yours. By His ways, I mean biblically and also wisely — His wisdom (which goes hand-in-hand), not yours and not man’s. Ask Him to help you to study marriage in a way that you never have before. Ask Him to help you to study your husband and yourself and what is in the mix that could be blocking open communication — for His insights. Ask God what He wants to teach you and how He wants to work within and through you in this marriage. So often we have a “goal” which we think makes sense, however, God has something else He knows needs to be done within us and within our spouse first or instead, so that our “goal” is not His main objective, in the same timing as ours.

      Don’t get me wrong, I believe that communication is important in marriage. But sometimes it just won’t come about in the way that we think it should. There will be other things that have to be dealt with first, such as working on “stuff” that blocks good communication. God knows this and has a plan to help us in the midst of this “block” but in our impatience and our pursuit of having our goal fulfilled, we overlook what God may be wanting to do in us and through us.

      Paul D Tripp, in his book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage wrote something that might help you in this journey to better communication with your husband. He wrote, “Our desire is that our marriages would be the location of our comfort, ease, and enjoyment; we often have desires no bigger than this. But God’s purpose is that each of our marriages would be a tool for something that is way more miraculous and glorious than our tiny, little, self-focused definition of happiness. He has designed marriage to be one of his most effective and efficient tools of personal holiness. He has designed your marriage to change you.”

      There is something that Gary Thomas wrote in his excellent book, Sacred Marriage that kind of goes along this same theme. He asked the questions, “What if God didn’t design marriage to be ‘easier?’ What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

      Paul Tripp went on to write more that relates to this. He wrote, “There are moments in our marriages when we’re crying out for grace, not recognizing that we’re getting it. We’re not getting the grace of relief or release, because that isn’t the grace we really need. No, what we’re getting is something we desperately need, the uncomfortable grace of personal growth and change. With the love of a Father, your Lord is prying open your hands so you’ll let go of that which rules your heart but will never satisfy you. With the insight of a seasoned teacher, He is driving you to question your own wisdom so that you will let go of your understanding and rest in His. With the skill of the world’s best counselor, God is showing you the delusions of your control so that you will take comfort in His rule. With the gentleness of a faithful friend He is facing you toward the inadequacies of your own righteousness so that you find hope in His.

      “When you are tired and uncomfortable because you have been called to live with someone who is not like you, what you tell yourself about what you are going through is very important. It is in this moment that you must preach to yourself the theology of uncomfortable grace (See Romans 5; James 1; and 1 Peter 1), because when you do, you begin to be less resistant and more appreciative, and you are on your way to forging a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.”

      I don’t know if any of this makes sense to you or not because you might wonder how this relates to opening up lines of communication with your husband, but what it comes down to is that for SOME reason — reasons beyond what you and I understand, there is a block. It could be a block of sin, laziness, it’s true, but it could also be there for some other very complicated reasons that also would need to be dealt with. Whatever it is, or they are, I’ve learned that when a block is there, God can help to deal with it. If it’s there, there is a reason and rather than keep knocking your head up against it, instead, look at it as something that God can use to teach us things He couldn’t otherwise.

      At this point, you can either scream out in frustration and keep fighting with your husband in the ways that you have in the past, or you can look to God to redeem this “problem” somehow and show you how He wants to work in and through you. As I said before, become a prayer warrior –for your marriage, your husband and yourself. (We have articles on this web site that will help you in this journey.) Become a student of marriage — marriage GOD’S way — not man’s. (We have articles on this web site that can help you with that part of this journey.) And become a student of your husband (again we have articles) and become a student of communication and listening — not only for words, but what isn’t said and what you can do when your spouse isn’t receptive to open communication AT THIS TIME (again, we have articles that can help with that). Don’t limit God and how He will teach you the uniqueness of your marriage situations, and the individuality of your spouse and yourself in your marital union. Glean from information that you come across, but know that God will show you what to apply and what not to apply that will be unique for you. As your Counselor, He will customize what you need to do to make things work. It won’t go against His Word… it will coincide with it, but will be unique in many ways.

      This is all a long journey. And it isn’t “fair” that you will have to walk a lot of this without your husband’s help. But as God guides, who knows at what point your husband may join you as you follow God’s lead? Please don’t let your husband think that you are making him your project, to “fix.” Instead, seek God’s heart on this and His wisdom and see what you will learn along the way.

      To encourage you, I did this years ago and my husband is now very much into open communication. I had to learn quite a few things first about myself, marriage, my husband, men in general, gender differences, and how to be more creative in opening up lines of communication so we both hear each other and speak to each other rather than AT each other. I had to learn more about healthy conflict resolution and many other things that I didn’t realize were lacking. I can’t tell you that your husband will definitely grow to a point of being more open and receptive to communicating… but I can tell you that it’s worth the effort you put in to this aspect of your marriage. It can be marriage-saving, and SO rewarding because if nothing else, YOU will learn and change in amazing ways as you draw all the more near to God and His agenda, rather than anyone else’s. … I wish you well in this and pray for God’s help, grace and His hope to be infused into your heart so you will persevere and will “lack in nothing” as a result.

    2. (USA)  As long as you are speaking in absolutes such as “He never listens…” you are unlikely to offer an environment where he finds it worthwhile to engage in conversation.

      You are speaking in absolutes, you say you are frustrated, and you get so frustrated that it turns into a fight.

      Is it possible a large part of the problem is your approach?

      I suspect there is value in getting you to define what you mean by “he never listens.” Because I suspect he can cite times where he has listened, and by your expression of this absolute, you’ve discounted the fact that he indeed listened.

      Perhaps instead of saying, “He never listens” which is a “You” statement, a form of attack or challenge, phrase it in an “I” statement. I.E. “When I am talking to you, and you don’t turn off the TV, I don’t feel heard. I would like to respectfully request that you turn off the TV and sit next to me if I ask to speak with you.”

      See the difference? Instead of making it about what he is doing wrong, why not make it about your feelings and what specific action you want.

      I doubt he never listens. You may not feel heard, and if you express it that way, you will not be as likely to trigger his defenses or start a fight.