And Why It Matters

I feel like for me that marriage has been a lot of figuring out as I go. I got married 28 years ago to this woman for whom I declared my love and devotion. “Love and devotion” -seemed easy enough (enter chuckle about this point).

And from the time that I joyfully declared “I do” until now, learning the art of loving my wife has seen both some major overhauls as well as some fine-tuning to my thinking and actions. 

One of those areas that has undergone a paradigm shift is in hearing my wife versus listening to her. These two terms are in galaxies that are light years apart, though I did not always understand that. When I first entered marriage, I assumed they were synonymous words. 

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I am in a sweet spot of marriage right now and immensely grateful for it. But, as you married dudes know, our wives can seem to be these amazingly complex creatures. I am learning that I have to “study” my wife as much now as I did when I first got married. And it used to both frustrate and confuse me when my wife would make a comment such as “I do not feel as if you are listening to me.”

But I am now understanding what she means.

I do not claim to have all of the answers about marriage, but after 28 years, I would hope that I have picked up a few tools for my tool belt that are proving useful. So if are having some struggles in the communication department of your marriage, allow me to offer you three insights that might be of help for you.

1. Hearing and listening are not the same word

Hearing, listening, po-tay-to, po-tah-to – don’t they essentially mean the same thing? In a word, no. To hear the words of my wife means there was an audible sound that entered my ear canal and registered in my brain. And I admit there have been many moments in my marriage where only that was going on.

To listen to my wife means that I contemplate her words in light of her needs and desires and make a mental note of an action that ensues from that conversation. To put it another way, I understand her heart behind her words and love her enough to initiate a response.

2. Listening does not always mean I fix it

I recall a conversation with my wife where she poured out for me a tough situation she was going through with another person. Being a guy, there was an equal sign and on the other side of it was the word “FIX.” I hear a problem. I fix a problem. Isn’t that my role?

Well, not always. In answering my wife, I had the plan of attack all laid out with schematics. Diagrams, steps, the whole works. It was somewhat confusing for me to hear from her in that same conversation that she was not looking for me to solve her problem, just listen to her.

What? In my mind, it was like, “Why tell me if you do not want me to fix it?” (Enter angst and disappointment.) But I learned a valuable, if not humbling, lesson that night. There are situations where my wife is not looking for a solution from me but rather desiring me to just help bear her burden. Just listen. I’ll admit that seems counter to my “guy wiring,” so it takes God’s discernment to tune in to her and know how to proceed. Many times, being undistracted and completely engaged is sufficient for her.

3. Listening demands humility

To listen, to truly tune in and take notice of her heart, is going to require that I not be defensive when confronted. I always have a reason for what I did or why I responded in such a way. My wife is looking to communicate her heart, and my desire to “be right” can often trump the conversation. I end up with a discouraged wife.

And so to attend to her words and observe them with my heart demands a heart posture in me. One of grace, humility, and love. And over time, God’s sanctifying work has shaved off some pretty rough edges within me and I no longer have the burning desire within me to counter her words in order to generate a good opinion of me.

Husbands, if you are going to insist that leading your wife means you always end up being right, God is going to kick your butt. I speak that from experience. Though I still have far to go, God is growing humility within me. But it is not a “native fruit” but rather one God has had to cultivate. And it has been one that has served my marriage very well.

There are others that I could list beyond the three given here. But what I mentioned has been top-tier for me. And I believe that this trifecta is part of the way that I can live with my wife in an understanding way and show honor to her as I Peter 3 admonishes me.




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  1. Great wisdom! I try to also ask questions as she’s speaking – rephrase what she said to make sure I’m understanding the content. This lets her know I’m not only listening, but I really want to understand what she’s saying.

    Thanks, Dr. Goyak!

    Have you read any good books on the art of listening?