I don’t even remember the exact conversation. But something told me my husband wasn’t quite as interested as I was. It went something like this:

Me: “I really think that’s something we need to address. What do you think about the whole situation?”

Husband: (absorbed with his phone): “Mm-hmm.”

Me: “So … you agree or disagree about what was said?”

Husband: “Yeah.”  (Briefly looks at me.)

Me: (Attempting to choose humor over annoyance): “So then, aliens for dinner. Blah, blah, blah.”

Husband: “Mm-hmm.”

Yep. My sweet husband wasn’t listening.

You’ve likely suspected at times that, intentional or not, your husband just isn’t listening to you. You’ve asked numerous times for help with a task he can’t remember you mentioning. Or he suddenly has no idea why you’re angry when you’ve told him at least once a day for the last week. Did he even hear you?

Wives, don’t be so smug. You are just as guilty.

I know I am. The other day I was so completely focused on planning out the week’s activities, menus, and grocery list, that my husband was probably talking to me for several minutes before I ever looked up. Oops.

The age-old battle of communication in marriage isn’t an issue that’s going away on its own—in fact, this exact issue is addressed during the opening session of FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. Communication struggles need to be identified (in a loving manner, I might add) before they can be repaired.

Below are four clues in your conversations with your spouse that tell you he or she might not be listening. After that, keep reading for reasons your spouse might not be hearing you.

Four Clues

1. He doesn’t focus on you during the conversation.

Instead, his eyes wander to the television, his phone, a book, whatever.

Active listeners will convey their interest through both eye contact and body posture. At times I’ve noticed that even if my husband is engaged in a task (like cooking or working on a car) and therefore can’t look at me, his shoulders are slightly inclined to me. It lets me know he’s listening even without eye contact.

2. She doesn’t respond to what you are saying.

You ask a question, and your spouse doesn’t answer. Sure, sometimes she might need a minute to think about a proper response. But if she doesn’t even notice you actually asked a question, that’s a pretty quick clue that you and your spouse aren’t communicating quite up to par. If she’s listening, she will likely respond appropriately to what you are saying. Sometimes a simple nod to let you know she is listening is all you need.

3. He doesn’t seem to understand (or care) what you are telling him.

It could be the way you present it, but if your spouse is actively listening, he should attempt to clarify the information you are giving him. “So what you are saying is …” can go a long way in understanding someone’s viewpoint.

4. She is focusing on the emotion of the conversation, rather than the words being said.

Instead of hearing what you are saying, your spouse immediately becomes defensive or hurt or angry. My experience as a wife tells me this might be a bigger problem for the ladies. I am an emotionally driven person. I have a terrible habit of letting my emotions react and my brain catch up later. Hear the words your spouse is saying to you, and try not to focus just on your emotional response to it.

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Improving your communication

If the clues above resonate with you, relax a little. There’s hope. Even the best marriages have struggles. But healthy communication is what can take your marriage from okay to great. It allows for a deeper level of intimacy and oneness with your spouse. And who doesn’t want that?
Whatever the reason why your spouse just isn’t hearing you, here are a few tips for improving your communication:

1. Understand that you and your spouse probably have two completely different communication styles.

I tend to think everything out loud and will likely share my feelings on every topic. My husband prefers a simpler, get-to-the-point approach, and long, drawn-out conversations are not his cup of tea. These differences can be a source of strife if we refuse to respect each other’s differences.

2. Talk to your spouse rather than at him.

Tone matters. No one likes to feel they are being lectured to, especially not your spouse. Are you using the same tone you use when telling your kids to clean their rooms? If so, expect your spouse to shut you out. Proverbs 18:21 gives us a sharp warning on this, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

3. Don’t let your own emotions rule the conversation.

Beware of emotionally charged words. I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell your spouse how you feel. Just understand that your emotions on a particular issue might not be theirs. Bringing anger to the conversation will likely cause your spouse to tune you out or react defensively. Ephesians 4:29 offers another important reminder on the power of our word choice—“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

4. Choose a time when you can talk each day.

One of the best tidbits of marriage advice we’ve received is to always make time to catch up with each other. This is also the one we’ve struggled to apply the most. Kids, work, and other schedule demands (not to mention just being exhausted at the end of the day) can make it hard to set aside a daily time to talk without interruptions. But the benefits on this one far outweigh the struggle of carving an extra 20 minutes into your day.

A skill you can learn

Thankfully, healthy communication is a skill couples can learn. Praying together is one way to start opening up the lines to proper communication with your spouse. But often, we need further help. The Weekend to Remember is a great tool for couples to learn not only what their communication styles are, but how to accept and respect each other’s differences while learning to fix broken communication habits and listen well to their spouses.
I’ve learned I am an “enjoy-the-ride” communicator, while I am married to someone who prefers “land-the-plane” conversations. Respecting those differences allows me to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with my husband. And it ensures he is listening. Well, more often than not!

For more help with communication, be sure to read “The Number One Problem in Marriage.”

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