These listening exercises, learned in the trenches of marriage, can strengthen and deepen any relationship.
My husband, Mark, and I have the best job in the world...or at least we think so. We have the privilege of coming alongside Christian leaders, pastors, and missionaries from all over the world to give support and care for their marriages.
These leaders—serving Jesus, loving people, and taking ground from the enemy and for the Kingdom of God—are our heroes. But the demands of ministry life can be overwhelming. As these servants give themselves away on a regular basis, some important things in life start to take a backseat, including their own families and marriages.
What these couples often don’t realize, though, is that they are only a few steps away from a great and satisfying relationship.
Mark and I are no experts. We minister out of our own experience as a married couple who needlessly suffered for 15 years as Christian ministry leaders. We almost got a divorce, but God brought coaches to come alongside us, love us, and teach us how to practically and skillfully live out God’s principles in our relationship. We are almost to year 30 now, and we have a healthy, growing marriage that brings us a great deal of joy and satisfaction.
What is one of the biggest differences for us? We absolutely know that no matter what happens we have the skills to “work it out.” Whatever “it” is, we know that we will persevere until we understand one another and feel heard, and we love giving couples this same hope for what is possible!
This practice of being and feeling heard—of listening to each other well—may sound like common sense, but it’s not something that most walk into marriage able to do. We have learned over the years that it is one of the most basic tenants of a healthy, flourishing relationship, and so it is one of the first skills we model and teach.
David Augsberger writes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” How often does it not matter if someone agrees with you, what the outcome of the conversation is, or even if they really understand you... but as long as you feel heard and validated, you feel loved?
You may be familiar with the communication tool Reflective Listening, or Active Listening. Jesus modeled this kind of listening so well when he came to earth and felt and experienced what it was like to walk in human shoes. He could be empathetic and loving while at the same time remaining true to himself as fully man and fully God. He was able to speak the truth with love and respect.
This kind of listening—entering into another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, understanding their perspective, and being empathetic even if you don’t agree—is a critical skill for healthy conflict resolution and negotiation. Even more importantly, it is the backbone of an intimate relationship that supports and gives life to each person.
Consider this “listening and speaking” as a gift exchange where one person is vulnerable and open while the other person focuses on listening wholeheartedly, knowing that he or she will have their turn to be heard as well.
Based on our work, we have developed listening exercises that anyone can start using in their own relationships, marital or not. These skills translate into every area of life—family, friends, work...really anyone to whom we would want to show care and love.
Download a simple first exercise of sharing and listening between partners, with helpful "feeling words" and self-coaching tips too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pam and her husband, Mark, own and minister out of the Bethesda House, a lake front home where they provide customized retreats, workshops, rest, and biblically-based coaching to assist leaders with lifelong fruitfulness in their marriages, personal lives, and ministries. Learn more at pastorretreats.org.