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 who serve Jesus and love people 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.
What is the big difference for us?
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.
The big difference for us is that 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 and what God desires for their marriage!
The art of listening well
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?
David Augsberger writes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” The practice of being and feeling heard—of listening to each other well— is one of the most basic tenants of a healthy, flourishing relationship. It may sound like common sense, but it’s not something that most of us walk into marriage able to do, and so it is one of the first skills we model and teach for our couples.
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 be human. 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 listens wholeheartedly, knowing that he or she will have their turn to be heard as well.
Try it for yourself
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.
CLICK HERE to download a simple first exercise of sharing and listening between partners, with helpful "feeling words" and self-coaching tips too.
>> 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.