Four Weaknesses I Had to Overcome to Become a Better Listener

(I am republishing this old post)

When I entered the relationship I am in, I kind of naively assumed that I was a good communicator because I was highly educated, I could communicate with my wife in two languages and I was in the process of learning my wife’s native language.

Being able to communicate with my foreign wife in three languages certainly helps but good communication is a lot more than that.

The ability to switch from one language to another when talking to her helps me to convey what I am trying to tell her in an accurate manner but that is just the tip of the iceberg because the foundation of excellent communication is listening.

All relationship experts say that and they are absolutely right: few weeks after my wedding day my inability to give my wife presence of mind and listen to her started to creep in and snowball to the point that it became very corrosive.

Actually the fact that I could communicate with her in three languages only made things worse because I could not use the language barrier as an excuse.

Here are four common weaknesses that I have and that, I guess, a lot of people have:

Lack of presence:

One of my main weaknesses is the tendency to go into Fantasy Land when someone else is talking.
It does not just happen with my wife. It used to happen when I was in school: I used to do well in school but I wouldn’t listen to anything the teachers said, the only reason I did well is because I used to study a lot at home but that entailed working twice as much.

This weakness spilled over into other areas of my life including marriage.

Now, while in school I could afford to ignore what the teachers said and still manage to pass the exams, because I could study the textbooks, marriage doesn’t work that way: there is no textbook where I can study what my wife says to me and, therefore, I have to listen right then and there.

When I became aware that my lack of presence was the source of a lot of problems, and that my efforts to learn my wife’s native language counted for very little, I started working very seriously to conquer this weakness.

I began to force myself to listen not just within the household but in every situation.

I don’t go to school anymore but I attend meetings, seminars, courses and listen to audiobooks while driving.

So what I did to improve my ability to be fully present was repeating out loud what I just heard in each one of those situations.

For example if I listen to an audiobook while driving I take five minutes or so when I stop the car to repeat out loud the gist of what I heard while driving.

When I go to a meeting or a seminar I approach the speaker telling him two or three specific things I appreciated.

I practiced these things for about six months and I started noticing great improvements even within my marriage and my family life in general.

We interrupt:

Another major weakness I have is the tendency to think about what I am going to say next while someone else is talking, and again this doesn’t just happen within the household but also when I go to a meeting or a seminar: while listening to a speech I think about the speech I am going to give.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a book entitled “Communication Miracles for Couples” by Jonathan Robinson that says that when someone else is talking to us and we are focused on what we are going to say next it is as if we were saying something like: “What you have to say is so predictable and such a waste of time that it’s not worth my waiting a few seconds, and what I have to say is so important that, in order to not waste my precious time, I’m going to cut you off.” (Chapter 8).

This sentence hit me so hard that I felt a huge sense of shame and started working very seriously on my ability to honor and acknowledge what my wife, or other people for that matter, are saying.

We defend or justify:

Another weakness I have is the tendency to defend or justify rather than fully listen to and acknowledge what my wife is trying to tell me, and all the more so because, more often than not, my wife doesn’t just reveal to me her deepest feelings but rather she vents them on me (and Filipinas are rather emotional women).

The problem is that when someone is venting and the other is defending or justifying no one is really listening.

So I’ve learned that someone has to break this negative pattern where nobody is listening and I have developed the habit of fully listen to my wife when she becomes emotional. I don’t do it perfectly, sometimes I lose my cool but I am trying.

We minimize or dismiss what our partner says as emotional or outlandish:

Sometimes my problem is that I dismiss what my wife says as emotional or even outlandish.

My wife is Filipina and sometimes she comes up with suggestions and ideas that are rather emotional and far-fetched.

I once heard the phrase “try to turn frustration into fascination” and, within certain limits, I am now trying to get curious rather than dismiss even the most outlandish things she says.

Even if my wife comes up with viewpoints that sound way too emotional, crazy and outlandish like for example when she says things like “I am sick and tired of living in this country, I miss my home let’s move to the Philippines for good next week (even if she knows that we don’t have the resources to make this move in one week)” I try to give her attention and honor her viewpoint and her suggestion.

It has been said that intimacy is into me see and if the person I am in an intimate relationship with says something outlandish it is as if a part of me were saying that. So, for the sake of into me see it is much more effective to get curious and find out the underlying reason why she is saying that crazy thing and try to grasp where she is coming from.

By practicing this I have learned to listen with genuine attention even to other people who say even the most woo-woo and crazy things.

For example few days ago I listened to a guy who claims that only a selected race will be saved and that God created all other races just to destroy them at Armageddon no matter how hard they try or how well they behave.

This guy is saying things that my mind dismisses as crazy and very outlandish but, because I have learned to listen attentively to whatever my wife says even when she is driven by strong emotions and she says strange things, I am listening to this guy with respect and honoring what he says.

So, yes, being able to speak my wife’s native language counts for very little and, in order to become a better communicator, I have had to work very hard on my listening skills and, as a result, my marriage (as well as my communication with other people) has improved dramatically.

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