If you’ve read the chapter on active listening (Capiche!, page 79), you might have thought, “I would love to listen—if my spouse would ever say anything!” This can be particularly painful if your spouse talks to others, like friends or family, but doesn’t share much with you.
Silence often happens when a spouse is either an avoider (one who has learned to disconnect from emotions) or a pleaser (one who is tuned into everyone else’s emotions but not their own).
How can you actively listen when your spouse is silent?
Prepare to listen. Make sure that your resentment levels are low. Resentment’s sole purpose for existing is to make someone pay for your hurts, and it doesn’t create a safe setting that feels inviting to your spouse. Resentment will find expression unless you remove it through forgiveness. Also, use wisdom. If both of you are early risers, don’t initiate a deep conversation late at night when you’re both tired. If you’re facing a stress-filled Wednesday, don’t have the discussion on Tuesday. Finally, remove as many distractions as possible. Turn off the TV and cell phone, and send the kids over to a friend’s house. Give yourself a real chance at success.
Choose safe topics. If your marriage is really hurting, I suggest you treat the dialog as if you were speaking to your sibling instead of your spouse. Choose safe topics such as the weather, upcoming business meetings, the kids’ newest adventure, or how disappointing your favorite sports team has been. These are all are fair game. You wouldn’t typically talk to your sibling about improving your relationship, so don’t start there with your spouse.
If your spouse brings a heated topic up, try to listen non-defensively. This is where the active listening technique can help. And don’t interrupt! Many of us are unaware how often we derail a conversation because we talk instead of listen. This is especially critical if your spouse hesitates to talk in the first place.
Enhance the conversation with questions. There are generally two styles of questions. One style says, “I’m really interested, tell me more about you,” and the other says, “I’m taking notes so you better have your facts straight!”
Which style do you think has a better success rate? Better yet, which style did you use when you were first smitten by this fascinating creature? Try that style again. Generally speaking, if my question is inspired by curiosity, it probably has a better chance of success than if it’s motivated by fear. “Hey, how was that new band last night?” is probably better than “Why were you out so late, again?”
Focus on patient, non-defensive listening and you may be surprised by the stories you will hear—both in number and in depth.
You can do this!