I don’t think you will ever really get this. I’ve been trying for well over 20 years, and I don’t have it down.
But you need to start somewhere, so here it is: You need to communicate with your wife by learning to shut up.
The things that you’ve talked about in the past will not be sufficient for your future together. The landscape has changed and new topics are coming. I want to emphasize that from now on, expect “talking” to be unfairly weighted to her subjects.
This new form of communication will be enriching to her as she gets to talk in journalistic detail about everything your new life together entails.
You will be longing to tell her about your latest fantasy football pick. She will want to speculate on the new neighbors, relate an obscure childhood story of little relevance, or plan your fiftieth anniversary.
You will be yearning to tell her about the riding mower you sat on at Home Depot last Saturday. She will need to share a brand-new fear she has that no one in the history of rational thought has ever had.
You will be dying to jump in and attempt to fix whatever issue she wants to talk through. Simply shut up. She will be bonding while she is talking. The smart husband will—and I know you will not get this any easier than I have—get her to talk more.
Ask essay questions. I know the news is about to start, Monday night football looms on the horizon, your boss was in rare form, and the checkbook needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation—but start to ask questions.
Don’t try to fix anything, because it’s not broken. At worst it’s healing. You don’t fix a bruise or cut; you nurse it. Your wife’s need to be heard is her way of letting you be the caretaker and confidante her mother and friends used to be. You are the go-to guy now, the first stop on the list. She may still need to talk to her mother or friends. Just don’t force her to go to them because you didn’t give her the time she needed.
James, the Lord’s brother, has some great advice for us: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19, 20). Wise King Solomon knew something about this as well. He said, “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish” (Proverbs 18:13, NLT).
For most of us guys, listening is not one of our strengths. We tend not to value it as much as we should. Often we are busy formulating our response to something that has just happened or been said.
I love the Bible story from Judges 13:19-23. It deals with Manoah and his wife, who were the parents of Samson, the strongman. Upon seeing an angel that had appeared to his wife to foretell the future of Samson, Manoah sacrificed a young goat and brought a grain offering. Then this happened:
As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord.
“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!”
But his wife answered, “If the Lord has meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.”
Manoah started off honoring God, but his faith faltered, and he needed his wife to sort out his thinking. Rather than process what had just happened, he felt compelled to verbally respond—and he missed what should have been obvious.
See what you learn when you listen?
Don’t get discouraged by thinking that active listening is an Olympic tryout. Your wife is your covenant partner, not an inconvenience. You are doing more than just talking; you’re forging your collective identity, you’re learning to communicate love, and you’re learning what it means to be in partnership. And it might really improve your character development to listen to a creature so different and yet designed to be your suitable helper.
Excerpt from Put the Seat Down © 2010 by Jess McCallum, published by Standard Publishing (www.standardpub.com). Used by permission.