Listening and speaking well are foundations for any relationship. Listening is a skill that most of us can continue to grow in. It is to be practiced and developed. My husband, Mark, and I used the structured repeating and reflecting of Reflective Listening for many years as we strengthened those muscles to be able to put aside our personal agenda and walk in the other’s shoes. We have experienced the delicious fruit of listening well and of feeling heard. We still fall back on the structure during conflict, tense times, and when there are deep emotions that we want to make sure we connect with.
You may have heard the metaphor of our “Emotional Bank Account,” where the amount of trust, safety, and love is built up in a relationship by making positive deposits. There are debits as well: stresses of life, family and ministry, our own sinfulness in how we treat one another. These all take away from this emotional bank account. Particularly in our most important relationships, we need to be very intentional to keep filling that positive reserve of love and trust. We do that in many ways: keeping our commitments, being honest and showing integrity, apologizing for our mistakes, and certainly listening well. Additionally, we do this by acting in love toward our partner and displaying caring behaviors for them.
We have found in our marriage that it is important not to assume that we know what makes each other feel loved, but instead to communicate clearly and ask for those very specific behaviors that make us feel loved—those acts that send our heart racing and make us drawn to our spouse. It is not fair to make our partner guess. It is also in my best interest to understand what makes my partner feel loved and act accordingly.
You may be familiar with The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He helps us understand our ways of feeling loved by calling our behaviors “languages.” They include words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Often, couples experience love in different ways, so if I want my partner to feel loved I need to use his or her language instead of the one that feels most comfortable to me.
At the same time, we don’t restrict each other to only receiving love in one “language.” For example, Mark’s love language is not words, but when he is in a struggle or having a tough time, he feels very loved when I say, “I’m with you in this.” Gifts are not my thing, but a surprise gift once in awhile is really nice.
We all need help learning the love languages of our partner and how to “speak their language.” This interactive exercise will get you started in discovering those unique languages.
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.