Hearing is but one element of listening – it is not the same thing as listening. Hearing implies that sound waves have been received; listening implies that understanding and comprehension have taken place.
Ironically, listening is often the neglected realm in a marriage. Observation and experience have taught me that the overwhelming majority of marital problems are due to the fact that one or both partners are poor and/or ineffective listeners. Husbands and wives hear audible sounds (i.e., words, language, etc.), but they don’t actually hear underlying meaning, nor do they grasp the other’s feelings.
The Bible emphasizes listening (Psm. 34:15-18; 116:1-2; Matt. 11:15; 13:9; Luke 8:15). One author calls it the “holy ground” of marriage. He observes:
“Intimacy begins with the ears. …The failure to listen might be the biggest hindrance of all to intimate communication. Real listening begins when a husband and wife decide to devote themselves to studying the innermost thoughts and feelings of their mate. This is holy ground – and listening is the doorway to all that lies beyond. There is little more irritating that the feeling that no one is listening. One woman said, ‘My husband always seems to take a pen out of his pocket and play with it while I am talking to him.’ Another said, ‘He never looks at me. He won’t put down his paper and make eye contact.’ Still another complained, ‘He always answers me with some humorous [remark], or tries to change the subject if I’m upset. Or even worse, he tries to complete my sentences, thinking he knows exactly what I am about to say.’ That kind of half-hearted listening would be discouraging, would it not?
…Listening goes beyond hearing words. A wife seems upset. Her husband says, ‘Honey, is anything wrong?’ She hesitates, then blurts out, ‘I guess not,’ he moves to the next thing: ‘That’s good. I wonder if the Astros are on tonight?’ Did he miss something? You bet he did. He missed an open door to real communication. He heard the words, but he failed to understand. A better response would have been, ‘You really are down, aren’t you? How can I help?’ She allowed her husband to see just a little bit of her heart and he declined the invitation to further revelation.”1
How can we walk into the holy ground of our spouse’s soul? The Bible counsels:
1. Listen for comprehension. “A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart” (Prov. 21:11 TLB).
2. Listen all the way through – from first to last. “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).
3. Listen readily. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas. 1:19; Eccl. 3:7; 5:2).
1/ Ed Young, “Can We Talk?,” Romancing The Home – How To Have A Marriage That Sizzles, 117-118).