Listening

10 Tips for a Healthy Marriage

Nearly everyone that gets married, goes in wanting to be happy and stay married for the rest of their lives.  So what happens along the way to cause people to end up hating each other or frustrated to the point of divorce?  Why does verbal, physical and emotional abuse happen so often in marriages that started out with so much hope?

Most people that end up getting married, don’t put much work in on the front end.  They may date for a while and many people are now pretending to be married, thinking that is a good way to prepare for marriage.  Unfortunately the results have been dismal.  Couples that live together have a much greater chance of divorce than those that do not.  Couples that do not go through some pre-marital mentoring or counseling have a much higher chance of not making it.  So for people that are thinking about getting married, go get some help in preparing for this lifelong commitment.  Why wouldn’t you get some training for the biggest relationship commitment you will ever make.

For those that are already married and maybe did not put a lot of work in at the beginning, it’s not too late.  Marriages can be improved dramatically with some work and a different perspective.  Here are some tips or thoughts on how to build a happy marriage:

  1. Change your expectations to desires – Marriage is not so much about you, but about serving and loving your spouse well.  If you are looking at your husband or wife to meet all your needs and make you happy, you are heading toward failure and disappoint.  No human being can meet all our needs and make us happy.  Only God can do that.  Many times we put too high of expectations on our spouse and then are upset when they don’t live up to that.  Instead of expecting certain behavior, change your mindset to desiring certain behavior.  When you see it happen it is more meaningful.  That shift in thinking can change your marriage.
  2. Learn to love well – To love well, a person must understand what speaks love to their spouse.  If you do not understand what is meaningful and special to your spouse, you can be doing the wrong things and actually be hurting your marriage.  Gary Chapman wrote a book called the “Five Love Languages”.  He describes 5 ways of communicating love to another person.  Those languages are; Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts and Quality Time.  Everyone has one or two of those that are more meaningful than others.  Find out what your spouses language is and what yours is and then sit down and talk about it with your spouse.
  3. Focus on growing yourself, not changing your spouse – The more you try to change your spouse the worse it usually gets.  The only thing you have control over is yourself.  When you focus on problems or the shortcomings of your spouse, you are no longer working on your own issues or growing closer to God.  Seek out a mentor or someone that can help you work on your own issues.
  4. Deepen your relationship with God – To have a happy marriage, it will take more than what you have on your own.  When you develop your relationship with God, He gives you strength, courage and wisdom you can’t get on your own.  When you grow spiritually, you grow relationally with others as well.
  5. Bring God into your Marriage – Spiritual intimacy in a marriage relationship is one of the biggest keys to happiness and contentment in marriage.  Making God central in your marriage builds a solid foundation.  Praying together, going to church together, going to small group together, reading the Bible & devotions together and having spiritual conversations together will build that intimacy.  If your spouse is not where you are at spiritually, don’t force this on them.  Instead pray silently for them regularly and demonstrate your faith by loving them well and serving them as best you can.
  6. Build Emotional Intimacy – This is all about being best friends.  Connecting with each other through meaningful conversations, doing fun things together and just hanging out.  This usually happens through the dating process, but often slows down after the marriage.  Start dating again and work at becoming friends again.
  7. Prioritize Physical Intimacy – This area of marriage often get neglected as life gets busy.  Children, work, family functions and children’s activities can keep married people from having enough physical intimacy.  Take time to plan for this if needed.  God designed sex for marriage for a reason.  It was meant to increase closeness and intimacy.  It is a way of serving each other and surrendering yourself to the other person.  Physical intimacy is much better when the emotional and spiritual intimacy are doing well.
  8. Always believe the best about your spouse – When you always think the best about your spouse instead of assuming the worse, you are more likely to be happily married.  Trust is essential in marriage.  Honesty and openness in marriage leads the way to trust.  Connecting emotionally, spiritually and physically helps to deepen trust and belief in your spouse.  When your first response is to believe the best instead of assume the worse, it leads to a better line of thinking.  Less suspicion and more trust.  When trust is broken though, boundaries need to be put into place in order to re-establish trust.
  9. Listen  – Most people are really poor listeners.  When it comes to marriage it can get even worse.  If you will simply work at becoming a better listener, your marriage will begin to improve.  Listening takes more than just paying attention.  It means to actually try to understand what is being said and being able to repeat it back.  It means you follow through on what is discussed.  In other words listening needs to be active, letting your spouse know you are truly interested and want to understand and then acting on what you hear.  First trying to understand before being understood leads to good listening.
  10. Think Team – Your on the same team not on opposite sides.  Team mates need to communicate well with each other and work together through whatever problems come your way.  Problem solving becomes a joint effort instead of one sided.  To function as a team you need to know your role and understand how you best contribute to the success of the marriage.  The approach should always be we not me.

These ten things are not the only things that help build a solid marriage, but they can get you started.  Marriage takes work to be successful.  A selfish person does not make a very good husband or wife.  Pride and arrogance leads to destruction.  So if your marriage is a mess or struggling along, humble yourself and get some help.  If your marriage is doing well and you have worked through some struggles, then you need to help others work on their marriages.

Listen, Can You Hear?

Every day God calls us by name and asks us to follow Him.  He offers all of Himself to us and is ready to give us everything we need to succeed that day.  Yet for most of us, we do not hear His voice.  We hear many voices everyday, they are calling for our attention.  The noise inside of us keeps us from hearing the one voice that can change everything.  Our minds can handle a lot of data, images and messages.  It’s like a supercomputer on steroids.  However, our minds can also stay so busy thinking about problems, fears, what if’s, ourselves and other people that we have no time for God.

Most people live pretty busy, hectic lives.  We try to balance Family and work and then squeeze God in when we can.  What if our mindset would change tomorrow morning, to waking up expecting to hear God’s voice.  What if we could quiet our minds and instead just focus on being with God to listen to His instruction and His guidance.  At first this may feel awkward and we may not hear anything and be easily distracted by all the stuff of the coming day.  But over time as we practice being silent and listening, God’s voice will start to come through clearer and more often.  His voice will begin to be louder than all the others that are trying to get and keep our attention.

Here are some practical ways we can listen and hear what God is telling us each day:

  • Start filling your mind with Scripture.  The more truth you fill your mind with the louder God’s voice becomes.  Several things we can do include:
  1. Devotional Reading – daily readings on practical application of Scripture.
  2. Study – Reading to discover what the words meant when they were written.  A good study Bible helps a lot.
  3. Memorization – This helps us to take to heart God’s word and these verses come back to us at important times.  We can all do this if we set our minds to it.  It helps to do it with someone.  I do this with a group of guys every month.  We have memorized 16 Verses over the last 8 months!
  4. Meditation – This is simply turning a Scripture over and over again in our minds.  This can be part of our memorization process.  The idea is to take God’s word and think about it and roll it around for a while, really letting it soak into every part of us.
  5. Hear the Word – Hopefully this happens at Church every Sunday, but we can also look for other ways of hearing the Word, through online messages, CD’s and radio.
  6. Doing the Word – Living out God’s word is one of the most powerful things we can do.  It can also be the hardest.  It’s one thing to hear it, memorize and think about it, it’s another to go do it every day.
  • Start planning times when you can slow down and switch gears.  Finding time for quiet reflection can be hard, but worth it.  When you get that time, ask God to speak and promise to listen.  This won’t happen unless you schedule it.
  • Trust God and Obey Him – When our minds start racing and we start worrying or being fearful, tell God you trust Him and will obey Him.  Trusting God starts with complete surrender and giving Him control of everything.
  • Get involved with a community of believers – We all need some people close enough to us to speak truth into our lives and to share at a deeper level.  God often speaks through other people, but we have to be careful what people we listen to.  Start praying now for God to bring the right people into your life.
  • Pray a lot – The more we talk with God the closer we get to Him.  Having conversations with God helps us to hear from Him.  Don’t do all the talking though.  Praise Him, Thank Him, Confess to Him, Ask Him and Intercede for others, but then stop and listen for what or who He brings to your mind.
  • Finally, when you ask God to speak and you have a thought, ask God if that is from Him or not. As we put more of God’s Word into our minds we get much better at filtering what is from God and what is from ourselves or the world.  We may even need to talk with someone else about what you think God is telling you.

Listening well means that your attention and focus is completely on that person.  It means that when someone speaks to you, you can repeat back what was said.  Listening well to God means that we are paying attention and can ask questions to clarify what we think He is saying.  It means that we are pursuing truth to the best of our ability and obeying what we hear by doing it.


Listen to Me!

We all know that listening is important but how well do we actually do at listening? The word listen means to make an effort to hear or pay attention, to give heed, or to take advice. The key is making an effort. How much of an effort do you make in your listening to your husband, wife, mom, dad, friends, children, employees, co-workers, customers?

A good listener will usually have these four character traits:

  1. Disciplined when they listen & when they talk – Focus on who they are communicating with.
  2. Seek the truth. They want to know what is right, not who is right.
  3. Love quiet time – no radio, no TV, no reading, no Internet, no interruptions. They review their internal thoughts. They are thinkers
  4. Full of questions. They don’t want to misunderstand or be misunderstood.

Sometimes we think that the people around us hear what we say, only to find out later they thought we meant something else. Listening is not enough, we must hear. Listening is not hearing until we fully understand what the other person is trying to communicate.

Most people hear the words that are being spoken and it goes through their filter and perceptions. Then they interpret what is being said, taking into account, all the non-verbals and the context of the communication. Everything we hear goes through a process of our past hurts, hang-ups and disappointments. We draw our conclusions accordingly. That is why people will take what we are saying and take it personally, or take it as an attack when it was not meant that way.

Proverbs 1:5 says “A wise man will hear and increase learning.” If we are going to be successful in our relationships, we must listen, hear and understand what people are saying. When we do that we are expressing that we value the person communicating.

A good way to make sure we understand someone is to simply ask this type of a question: “Is this what you are trying to tell me?” or “Is this what you mean?” This will help to bring clarity to your discussion and avoid a lot of unnecessary disagreements and conflict.

So here are some questions for you to ponder:

  • Who do you have difficulty hearing?
  • How does it make you feel when someone listens and hears you?
  • Are you misunderstood a lot
  • Do you have conflict because of misunderstanding others?
  • How well are you doing in this area of Listening?

Proverbs says if you are wise, you will make every effort to hear and pay attention when people are communicating with you, so that you can increase your understanding, which leads to better relationships, (at least that is my translation).

Trust Me

Why is trust such a big deal? When I was in the business world of banking and consulting trust was a key ingredient to client development. When clients felt like they could trust you, they would be more loyal, worry less and take your advice more readily.

It’s the same in any relationship. Take the marriage relationship for example. When both husband and wife trust each other they are more committed to each other, they worry less about what the other is doing while they are not around and they tend to listen better and accept what they hear.

Whether in business , marriage, friendship or any other relationships trust is vital to good health. When you trust someone, there is a comfort or easiness about the relationship. If you don’t trust your friends, you are less likely to open up and share much about what is going on in your life. If you don’t trust your spouse you are going to be skeptical of everything they say or do. If you don’t trust God you will not believe everything He says and hold back from giving him all of you.

So how do you build trust? Henry Cloud made this statement “Where there is a failure in empathy and understanding, trust is not built.” For trust to happen we must listen well. When you listen to someone with the intent of trying to understand them or where they are coming from it builds trust. You do this by being fully present with them, asking questions to clarify and by not prejudging or jumping to conclusions. When you listen with empathy, you are trying to put yourself in their shoes and understand their hearts. When you listen well and someone feels like you understand them, trust is deepened.

Trust is also built by being actively involved in that persons life. When you show that you are actually interested in them as a person it builds a bond. Showing that you value them and want to get to know them will build trust and strengthen the relationship. God demonstrated this quite well, He desires to know us at an intimate level, to always be with us and to care about every single part of our lives. Read Psalm 139.

Trust is also built when we treat others well, no matter what they can or can’t do for us. It is easy to treat people well, when they treat you well. But what about the people that have hurt you or offended you? What about the spouse that has been distant and irritable. When we extend grace, which is unmerited favor, to other people it builds trust and respect. Remember God gives us unbelievable grace.

Trust is also built when we are real with people. When we share that we are not perfect and that we do mess up. When we admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness. When people see that you are willing to open up and show your weaknesses it builds credibility and trust. The people around you already know your weaknesses and when you mess up. When you admit it, it shows that you are real and not fake. Fake people cannot be trusted.

We also trust people that do what they said they would do. When you walk the talk, so to speak it builds trust. This is an issue of character and integrity. When you make a promise do you follow through or do you drop the ball. When you tell your spouse you will do something do you follow through or do you usually forget. Dependable people build trust and are entrusted with more.

Trust is not something that is just freely given. People don’t usually blindly trust. Trust is earned by our behavior. To build trust we must build the kind of character that the people around us can see on a regular basis. This takes diligent spiritual growth, that shapes you into the man or woman that God created you to be. The benefit of being trustworthy is healthy, happy relationships.

Whispers

I read this Cherokee Proverb that I really like. “Listen to the whispers and you won’t have to hear the screams.”

If you are attentive to the small issues, you can avoid a lot of big issues. Listening can keep problems from escalating. When you hear the the whispers of those around you it helps you connect with them; understand them; serve them; lead them and love them.

Many of the problems you face at work, at home and anywhere else is a result of not listening. When you are focused on your own needs, your own problems and your own best interests, you tend to not listen to those around you. That usually leads to mistakes and bad decisions. It also puts up a wall to those around you.

If you will take the step today to be a better listener, all of your relationships will improve. People will want to spend time with you, because when you listen, you communicate that you care.

To be a great listener, you need to be humble and be willing to slow down enough to hear those whispers. Whose whispers are you missing? Are you getting only screams? Start by listening for those whispers, those small things that you can act on and respond to that will communicate that you care.

How to be a Good Listener

Relationships can be hard work. Especially the marriage relationship. I am reminded of that over and over in my own marriage and other important relationships. A big part of deepening your relationships is to listen and communicate well. I came across this short article by Dr. Gary Chapman that did a nice job of explaining how to be a good listener. Take the time to read this and then start applying it to your relationships.

How to Be a Good Listener by Dr. Gary Chapman

You’re probably familiar with the five love languages–quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts and physical touch. Did you know quality time has many dialects? One of the most common dialects is that of quality conversation. By quality conversation, I mean sympathetic dialogue where two individuals are sharing their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context.

Have you ever wondered if you’re a good listener? How can you improve in this area? Here are eight steps to becoming a sympathetic listener.

1. Maintain eye contact when you are listening to someone. This keeps your mind from wandering and communicates that the person has your full attention. Refrain from rolling your eyes in disgust, closing your eyes when they give you a low blow, looking over their head, or staring at their shoes while they are talking.

2. Don’t engage in other activities while you are listening to another individual. Remember, quality time is giving someone your undivided attention.

3. Listen for feelings. Ask yourself: “What are this person’s emotions right now?” When you think you have the answer, confirm it. For example, “It sounds like you are feeling disappointed because I forgot…” That gives the person a chance to clarify his/her feelings. It also communicates that you are listening intently to what they are saying.

4. Observe body language. Clenched fists, trembling hands, tears, furrowed brows, and eye movement may give you clues as to what the person is feeling. Sometimes body language speaks one message while words speak another. Ask for clarification to make sure you know what the person is really thinking and feeling.

5. Refuse to interrupt.

6. Ask reflective questions.

7. Express understanding. The person needs to know that he/she has been heard and understood.

8. Ask if there is anything you might do that would be helpful. Notice, you are asking, not telling the person what she ought to do. Never give advice until you are sure the other person wants it.

Judgmental

I finished a good book this morning called UnChristian by David Kinnaman. The chapter that really jumped out at me was entitled judgemental.

The definition the author gives for judgemental is “To be judgemental is to point out something that is wrong in someone else’s life, making the person feel put down, excluded and marginalized. Some part of their potential to be Christ followers is snuffed out. Being judgemental is fueled by self-righteousness, the misguided inner motivation to make our own life look better by comparing it to the lives of others.”

He says that 87 percent of young outsiders think that judgemental, accurately describes present-day Christians. They believe we are more interested in proving we are right than that God is right. This perception of Christians has kept many people away from a relationship with Jesus Christ. That attitude pushes people away from God and His purpose for their lives.

It is very easy to be judgmental if we lose our passion for outsiders. Instead of looking at them with love and compassion we judge the way they act, talk, look and dress. The Bible makes it clear that God, not humans, should judge. He calls us to love people, accept people, build relationships and friendships with people.

So how do we avoid being judgemental. It starts by listening. Listen to understand, not be understood. We often judge because we don’t understand. Don’t label people or put them in a certain box, because of how they look, act or behave. Don’t pretend to have all the answers and to know it all. That is always a turn off.

Try to put yourself in their place, empathy helps you to love instead of judge. It also helps to be real and not pretend that you have it all together. To really care about people and be their friend, even if they don’t come to church or believe like you do. Friendship should be real and based on a genuine interest in the person.

This week I met with a young lady that was new to being a Christian. She had many questions, because she was not raised in a Christian home. As I answered some of her questions she shared some of her struggles with me. She thought that becoming a Christian meant she had to be perfect. She told me later in our conversation that she was watching how I would react to her struggles. She said she did not feel like I was judging her, which helped her to draw closer to God.

I have to remind myself often that it is not my job to change or judge people. That’s God’s job. It is my job to love them and to point them to the love of Jesus. He is the one that will bring change in their lives. I know that, because that what Jesus did in my life. He changed me over time into a new person. You see, the opposite of judgementalism is love.

So how do you perceive single parents, divorced people, gays and lesbians, people with tattoos, people that smoke, your neighbors, your pastor? Philip Yancey said “the opposite of sin is not virtue; it is grace”. Are you extending grace to people the way God extended grace to you? I hope this week we can all look at people through the eyes of Jesus, and love them like He does.

What did you say?

Most people that I talk to would say they are above average as a driver, above average on sense of humor and above average on listening. I must say that I would say that about myself as well.

The fact is that most of people are not good listeners. I won’t get into the driving and sense of humor thing.

As a leader, listening is a vital characteristic for success. Unfortunately many leader’s are terrible listeners. They are often thinking about what to say next themselves, or how to respond back. I see this often in marriage relationships and in parenting as well. By the way, if you are married or a parent, you are definitely a leader. Spouses and parents that do a poor job of listening usually leads to conflict and damage to the relationships.

If you want to improve your leadership at home and at work, focus on improving your listening skills this week. Here are some conclusions about good listening:

  1. Understanding people comes before leading them
  2. You learn the most by listening
  3. Listening can keep problems from escalating
  4. Listening establishes trust
  5. Listening can improve all your relationships
  6. Listening to understand helps avoid misunderstandings
  7. Listening shows you care.

Try to be a focused listener the next time you are in a meeting or talking with someone you love.

  • Repeat back to the person speaking what you heard them say.
  • Maintain good eye contact.
  • Ask questions to help you understand and clarify what was said.
  • Take some notes of what is being said.
  • Pay attention to the non-verbals like tone of voice and facial expressions.
  • Seek out the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others.
  • Listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time.

If you can do that on a consistent basis, you will see drastic improvements in your relationships and in your leadership.

Are You Listening?

Do you consider yourself a good listener? Most people would rate themselves above average as a listener, but few people are really good listeners. I read a quote today that jumped out of the page at me and made me start thinking about how I listen and see the world around me.

Here it is; “That’s why I am talking to you. You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.” That was from John Steinbeck in East of Eden.

It made me ask the question; Am I one of those rare people that sees what is? This can be a very difficult thing to do because we all view other people in a different way based on our own experiences and beliefs. It is so easy to make judgements about a person before we even get to know them. If we see a poor person we tend to think and act a certain way with them. If we see a person that looks wealthy again, we tend to act and think a certain way.

Do people want to talk to you? Do you find that people come to you often for advice and counsel? Do you wonder why this is happening? If so you are one of the rare people that God has given the gift of discernment. You are able to see the real issue or problem before others. You are able to quickly realize if someone or something is good or evil. You are able to see through the fronts that most people put on. You can even tell if people are lying or telling the truth.

Most people go through life with a mask on, not letting people too close to their world. The rare person can see through that because they really see and really listen. It’s the rare person that patiently listens to a problem or situation, asks a few clarifying questions to draw out the real issues and helps a person feel better. It’s an even rarer person that can see the problem without even having to hear a word.

I know some of these rare people and I am amazed at their ability to discern and see what is. I have to keep working on it because I still sometimes see what I expect. Slow down and really listen to people. Observe them and become curious about what is going on with them. This is especially true in our close relationships with family and spouses. Listening and trying to understand and empathize is a great gift to the people around you. All of us can listen and see better. Take off your blinders and begin to see other people the way God sees them. Listen with compassion instead of judgment. That will raise your compassion level and cause you to see what is, not what is expected.