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What Does Listening Really Mean?

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
Do you understand how to listen to your mate attentively, compassionately and effectively?

Family Counseling Ministries -

Someone has noted wisely that since God created us with two ears and one mouth, we should probably listen twice as much as we speak. One of the most important marital communication skills a husband or wife can possess is the ability to listen intently.


A person generally hears approximately twenty percent of what is said. For this reason marriage partners must be willing to learn the skill of attentive, effective listening.


An effective listener listens with a focused mind. When your spouse is speaking do you think about what you plan to say when he or she stops talking? Most people enjoy hearing themselves talk. They feel more comfortable when asserting their opinions and stating their case. In the midst of marital conflict, husbands and wives often wait until their spouse takes a breath to jump in with a counter-attack. Biblical listening, however, involves much more than waiting courteously until one’s mate finishes speaking.

Loving listeners seek to hear not only the words their spouse is speaking, but also to understand what their partner really means. They take an active role in helping their mate express the true feelings of his or her heart. If, for example, they are puzzled by a particular statement their spouse has made, they ask for further clarification, believing that it would be uncaring to simply “let it go.”

Some marriage partners are adept at saying exactly what they mean. Their spouse, by comparison, may feel inadequate to articulate his or her deepest feelings. The goal of an effective listener is not to win a verbal spar, but to facilitate communication.

Good listeners maintain an objective mind. They don’t decide ahead of time what conclusions they will reach as the discussion draws to a close. They are open to hearing all the facts and they have a teachable spirit. The writer of James 1:5 promises us,

If any man lacks wisdom let him ask of God and it will be given to him liberally and without reproach.

Husbands and wives should remember that they do not have all the answers. God is ready and able to grant light to any marriage partner who is willing to obediently walk in that light.

Listening attentively involves patience. Good listeners never end a discussion abruptly when they decide that enough time has been spent on an issue. They don’t hurry their spouse along. Instead, they encourage their mate to continue until they are both satisfied that they have dealt sufficiently with the matter. They invite their spouse to feel free to bring the subject up again, should he or she feel at some point in the future, that the problem has not been fully resolved.


An effective listener demonstrates a willingness to change once marriage partners have thoroughly addressed a problem and reached a solution. They do not insist on being right. Although they may be painfully aware of many areas they would like to change in their spouse, they understand that their job is to change themselves.


When marital conflict occurs, husbands and wives would do well to recall their marriage vow to love one another for better or for worse. It is pointless for a husband or wife to question whether or not he or she married the right person after the marriage vows have been spoken. They must redirect their focus to the goal of being the right person. When marriage partners stop criticizing and critiquing each other, they can learn to love and accept one another unconditionally.



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