5 Ways to Be a Good Listener for Your Spouse

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5 Ways to Be a Good Listener for Your Spouse

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Opening your heart to your spouse—and nurturing theirs—requires listening well. With so many different issues, obligations, devices, and people pulling at us from every direction, it can be difficult to slow down and truly listen to one another. Listening can be pleasant, but sometimes it’s downright hard. Sometimes, you might want to tune out and lose yourself in your favorite pastime instead—or dive into the list of to-do items you still need to cross off before the day is over.

But to have a healthy, thriving marriage, it’s critical to truly listen to your spouse with empathy and generosity. Today, we’re sharing five ways you can be a good listener for your spouse.

1. LISTEN WITH EMPATHY

When you practice empathy, you’re putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes and seeing things through their eyes. Whether you’re trying to resolve a conflict or just simply listening to your spouse talk about their day, it’s beneficial to both of you to listen with empathy when your spouse speaks to you. For you, it gives you a window into their world and their perspective. For your spouse, knowing that you’re listening from an empathic vantage point helps them feel secure.

Maybe your spouse needs to vent about work, and normally, you tune out when they start talking about their tough day or their challenging project. Instead of switching your mind off while they talk, try to see the events of the day through their eyes, and in the context of your life. Have you been dealing with problems at home, like financial issues, trouble with the kids, or taking care of an ailing parent? Contextualizing your whole life along with what’s happening at your spouse’s job will help you understand the level of pile-on they’re dealing with.

2. LISTEN FOR EMOTION

When your spouse needs to talk to you about something—especially if it’s something hard—it’s easy to get wrapped up and carried away by your own emotions on the topic. In that case, you might respond to your spouse in a totally inappropriate way in your attempt to alleviate the difficult emotions that come up for you. Instead, take a minute to listen for what your spouse might be feeling. This type of intentional listening goes hand-in-hand with empathy.

Once you’ve identified what your spouse is feeling—whether it’s anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, or excitement—you can adjust your responses based on their emotional state. It gives you an extra chance to check yourself before you say or do something that might exacerbate the emotional state they’re in. When our emotions go into a tailspin, it can be difficult to keep communication healthy.

3. LISTEN WITHOUT BIAS

You’ve both got your opinions, and it’s hard to let those opinions go in favor of simply listening to one another. Listening without bias is helpful when you have opposite stances on certain issues, or when you’re locked in a stalemate during a fight. Set your opinions aside for long enough to hear what your spouse is saying, then practice your empathy skills to try to understand why.

This doesn’t mean you have to change your opinion to match your spouse’s. What it does mean is that your spouse deserves to be heard, and you can’t truly hear if you’re filtering everything they say through your own bias.

4. LISTEN LOVINGLY

When you’re communicating with your spouse, it can be helpful to use loving gestures and body language to let them know you care about what they have to say. It can be as simple as holding eye contact and nodding to affirm what they’re telling you. You could also reach out to touch them or hold hands. Turn your body toward them, or even stop what you’re doing and just sit with them if that’s what they need.

While you may be able to go about your business and have a conversation at the same time (and that can be okay sometimes), there are going to be times where you need to just put everything down and focus all your attention on your spouse. Turn off the TV, put down your phone or other devices, forget the to-do list for a little while, and give your spouse loving affirmation through eye contact and touch.

5. LISTEN GENEROUSLY

Your spouse needs the gift of your time and attention. It’s hard to take time out of our busy lives to generously give our energy to listening when we have so much to do every day, but communicating openly is key to a healthy marriage. When you listen generously, your spouse will feel secure in coming to you with their concerns, hopes, and fears.

If you would like more help with listening and communicating well with your spouse, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

5 Ways to Turn Sympathetic Statements Into Empathetic Ones

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5 Ways to Turn Sympathetic Statements Into Empathetic Ones

By Jared Wolf

“Sympathy” and “empathy” are two words so often used interchangeably that it’s rare to find two people who agree on exactly what the difference is.

The way I see it, sympathy is “feeling for,” and empathy is “feeling with.” Put another way, sympathy is telling someone you care, while empathy is showing it. At Crisis Text Line, we like to think we’re in the empathy business, and value empathy as a skill — it’s the key tenet of our Crisis Counselor training, which prepares our volunteers to work with people in crisis via text message.

We recognize everyone’s experience is different. It’s impossible for any one person to know exactly what another is feeling, because they’ll never be in precisely the same set of circumstances.

That’s why we don’t think of empathy in terms of sharing a person’s experience, we think of it as actively listening and genuinely trying to understand that experience to reflect back what it might feel like.

There are many ways you might be practicing sympathy in your life that can easily be turned into more meaningful and powerful acts of empathy.

1. Hold back on the advice.

The instinct to give advice is totally natural, but that’s often not what people are looking for. Bits of (sometimes terrible) advice are a dime-a-dozen, but thoughtful listening is rare. Instead of offering a friend unsolicited advice, try asking what they think they should do.

Example: “You know yourself best. What do you think would be most helpful to you right now?”

2. Avoid showing pity.

There are few things that make a person feel smaller than the sense that they’re being pitied. Replace expressions of pity (anything along the lines of “You poor thing”) with identifications of the person’s strengths.

Example: “You’re showing so much self-awareness in this situation. It’s really admirable. Thanks for being brave enough to come to me with this.”

3. Don’t assume you know the whole story.

When someone is telling you about their experience, it’s easy to believe you know exactly how they feel. Again, it’s impossible to know exactly how someone is feeling. Replace “I know you feel…” with more tentative statements lik1e, “It sounds like you’re feeling…”

Example: “It seems like all this has left you feeling embarrassed, is that right?”

4. Validate difficult emotions.

Expressing painful emotions is never easy, and can leave someone feeling vulnerable. You can help mitigate the fear around it by validating the way someone is feeling, and letting them know it’s OK to not be OK.

Example: “It makes perfect sense that you’re feeling frustrated right now.”

5. Ask questions.

When someone’s struggling, showing a real interest in what they’re saying goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to come right out and ask questions that allow them to further explain how they’re feeling. The caveat is to avoid “curiosity questions,” or questions that seek details, but don’t do anything but feed into your own desire to know more. Another type of question to avoid is the “why” question, which can sound judgmental, even when it’s not meant to be. Try rewording “why” questions into “how” questions to make them more effective.

Example: “How were you feeling when this first happened?”

Turning your sympathy into empathy takes practice, but if you keep these five strategies in mind, you’ll be well on your way to being a more empathetic friend, partner, coworker and family member.

In a crisis? Text HELLO to 741741 for free, 24/7 support in the US with a trained Crisis Counselor.

If you are not in crisis and would like to talk with a counselor or coach, please call CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003. If you are in crisis, please call 911, text the information above, or call Netcare at 614-276-2273.

Time to Listen

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If you would like someone to listen and care for you, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Listening When You Can’t Possibly Hear Everyone

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Listening When You Can’t Possibly Hear Everyone

By Sam Rainer

If you’re like me, you want your voice heard, even at the top levels of leadership. I may not be able to have lunch with the President of the United States, but I do want to feel like he’s listening to me. I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable expectation of followers to want their voices heard by top leaders.

As a leader, you should want to be at the ground level. All leaders should listen carefully, with posture of learning. But you can’t possibly be with everyone all the time. If you lead a church of more than 75 people (the median church size), then it’s tough to listen to everyone. Even if you tried, decisions that should take weeks could end up taking years. You would become a poor leader because of an inability to steward time.

Some leaders use listening as an excuse not to make a decision. They hide their lack of vision, lack of discernment, or lack of courage to make a decision behind the guise of listening to people. But that’s not most leaders. Most leaders should listen more.

How can you listen when you can’t possibly hear everyone?

Use discernment. Not everyone wants to be heard on every issue. At any given point, only a portion of people will have strong opinions. Some won’t have an opinion. Others may not have the expertise or experience to weigh in on a particular topic. It’s not necessary to get everyone’s take all the time. The best listening leaders know how to steward time.

Be accessible. You can’t be available to everyone, but you can be accessible. Constant availability is a trap. Available church leaders are in one spot, on demand and at the command of others’ schedules. Accessibility means you’re reachable and approachable. Accessible church leaders have an intentional strategy to be among as many people as possible, but on their own schedules.

Take time. If you need an extra month to track the pulse of the congregation, take it. Dragging out a decision for a year is indecisive leadership. Taking an extra week or month may mean the difference of respecting the voice of the congregation or not.

Utilize others. Use staff, deacons, or other key leaders to be the—constant—eyes and ears. You can’t be everywhere, but you can have ears listening in many places for you.

Don’t hide. Leadership is a gift from followers. Don’t selfishly hoard it by hiding. Hold town hall gatherings. Attend committee meetings. Visit Sunday school classes. Hang out. Simply be among the people and listen. Perhaps people will talk about how you listen.

Follow up. Lastly, one of the best ways to listen is to follow up personally with detractors. Winning them over can go a long way for future work, and it also makes a statement to the congregation that you’re willing to hear all sides.

You can’t possibly listen to everyone. But you can make sure everyone has a voice.

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If you would like to learn more, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003.