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Learn how to decode the feelings behind your spouse’s words

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Edifa - published on 01/07/21

Discover the principles of true listening -- it will improve your marriage.

“My wife asks me all the time to listen to her, which I do willingly. But I can see that she is not satisfied with the quality of my listening. What can I do?” a husband asked me one day. In any relationship, listening is crucial. As soon as we have a problem with our spouse, our child, a friend, a colleague, the first thing we should do is listen. And it’s true that, generally speaking, they will thank us for it, even when we don’t say one word. But listening can only be fully satisfying if it is “active listening” — a concept that is meant to show that listening is neither a question of merely keeping quiet nor is it offering an automatic kind of reformulation of the problem being presented.

Decoding the feeling behind the words

Listening is first of all welcoming the other person’s words, especially their feelings, and giving them the right to perceive things differently than we do. Always remember that a negative feeling that is acknowledged by another person often helps the person expressing it to let it go. If a wife who is exhausted after a difficult day can vent her exhaustion to an understanding husband, she will find peace and strength again.

Listening also means decoding the exact meaning of the words used. Listening is mostly about decoding the feelings that accompany the other person’s words. For example, a husband may well know what his wife is accusing him of, but not realize how much she is suffering.

Listening is putting yourself in the other person’s place, while remaining yourself

Listening is above all living this virtue — one of the most beautiful forms of love — which psychologist Carl Rogers calls empathy (literally “to feel, to suffer in”). It is the ability of a person who listens to shift his or her focus, to put aside the way he or she sees in order to enter into feelings, and thus show that they understand what their partner is going through. Listening means putting yourself in the other person’s place, while remaining yourself. To be empathetic is to understand what your spouse is going through, and vice versa: the place he or she does not always have in society, his or her fear of unemployment, his or her work responsibilities that take them away from family life.

Christians have a wonderful example of empathy: Christ, who did not come to Earth as a visitor, but who experienced the human condition in its entirety, who was hungry, thirsty, while still remaining God. He put himself in our skin: doesn’t the Incarnation speak even more than empathy? To be on the same level with us, He left his divinity in the shadows, just as the listener leaves his ideas in the backroom to enter into the problems of the other—not to manipulate them, but out of Love!

Denis Sonet


HOLY FAMILY

Read more:
The Holy Family’s marriage advice

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