“You never listen to me,” complained his wife.
“And just what makes you think I don’t listen to you?” asks her husband.
“Because when I talk to you, you don’t look at me. You’re looking out the window or at the television. Besides, you never answer me, and when you do say something, it’s on a different subject,” is her response.
Native Americans have a saying, “Listen or your mouth will make you deaf.” Also, there is a proverb: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” Both sayings speak to the importance of listening.
Listening is more difficult than we might think. It is hard work that includes discipline, concentration, focusing attention, feedback, and energy. It may become more difficult the longer we are in a relationship with someone.
We often stop listening to the whole conversation if we think we have heard it before. “Here she goes again. I have heard this one before. I know where this is going.”
There is a physiological reason that makes careful listening difficult. Although we are capable of understanding speech at rates up to 600 words per minute, the average person speaks between 100 to 150 words per minute. Thus we have a lot of “spare time” to spend on other thoughts besides what is being said. While our partner is talking, we might be thinking about what we are going to do later.
Most men have trouble listening when their partners share too much information or details. Also, they stop listening if there does not seem to be a point. Many women think out loud and discover their points as they talk. It reminds me of a man who came home armed with a study about men and women. He showed it to her and said, “Look at this! This study says that the average woman speaks roughly 25,000 words a day, while the average man speaks only 12,500!”
She calmly asked, “Do you want to know why we talk more than men?”
“Sure!” he says.
“Because we have to repeat and explain everything to you.”
To this, the man asked, “What?”
So we might say there is a gender problem when it comes to listening.
One of the reasons many couples do not feel they know each other or have the closeness they desire is because, like most couples, they spend less than 30 minutes a week sharing intimate feelings. Since listening is 45 percent of communication, it is essential for understanding, trust, and intimacy.
How does a person know we are listening? Confucius is quoted as saying, “When we listen, we listen with eye, ear, head, and heart.”
To listen with our eyes so that we understand the whole message. (Non-verbal language is 80 percent of communication.)
- To listen with our ears so that we hear the words our partner has chosen for self-expression.
- To listen with our head so that we understand the meaning behind the words.
- To listen with our heart so that we understand the feelings behind the words.
“We all want, above all, to be heard. But not merely heard. We want to be understood - heard for what we think we are saying, for what we know we meant.” (Deborah Tannen)
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700