“If we are to communicate effectively, we must first learn to listen. And if we are to listen effectively, we must seek to understand the other person’s point of view.”
The Prelude: A Personal Anecdote
Food and I have a love affair that goes back several decades. Food is excellent unless you overeat or if it becomes a distraction.
Not long ago, I came home after work and met my wife at the patio door as she finished grilling burgers for dinner. As a polite husband, I asked, “How did your day go?” She dutifully began to inform me about how one of our kids was doing well in school, but another child struggled to show her respect at home. As she continued to talk, I watched her as she used her spatula to lift a perfectly grilled burger, with melted pepper jack cheese, off the grill and onto an awaiting bun with my name on it.
Then I realized the talking had stopped, and she was looking at me. I could tell she was awaiting a response by her expression, but I lost track of what she was talking about. Oh, crud, was it about the kid who wasn’t showing respect, dinner, or something else? I didn’t know, but if I didn’t respond soon, she would know that I had long since stopped listening, and if she knew that, she might give that perfect burger to herself or, worse, to one of the kids.
Now, what do I do? Think, Paul, think! You got a rumbly in that tummy, and if you mess up now, it may stay rumbling all night. But then it hit me, an idea so brilliant that I was sure it was foolproof, and she would be none the wiser to my distracted mind! I responded with, “Hold on, Hunny, I’m sorry, but I really need to go to the bathroom real quick,” and off I ran. Disaster averted, or so I thought. As I stepped out of the restroom, I began to ask, “I’m sorry, what was your question again?” and then I saw it. My wife was serving up that perfect burger to one of the kids.
That was not exactly what we would call listening, but we all have had moments like this where our minds wander, and our attention gets caught by something else. It’s easy to get lost in the moment, especially when there’s some tempting food involved. However, it’s critical to stay focused and give an ear to those around us, especially in interactions with our loved ones. Paying attention and actively listening can go a long way in building strong relationships and ensuring everyone feels heard and appreciated.
Do you find yourself constantly talking and barely listening in your marriage? Have you considered how this could be affecting the health of your relationship? In the intricate journey of marriage, nurturing a healthy relationship requires the art of listening. This simple yet profound act can transform your relationship by fostering deeper understanding, empathy, and connection. My culinary distraction at that moment demonstrated a key failing that can happen in our daily interactions, especially with our loved ones – the failure to listen actively. While the cost in my scenario was missing out on a delicious burger, the price in real-life relationships can be far more consequential. Now let’s unravel the pivotal role listening plays in a marriage relationship.
The Elusive Art of Listening
In a world filled with noise and distractions, genuinely listening to another person is a gift that is often overlooked. In a marriage relationship, listening becomes even more crucial. According to research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, active listening is critical to effective relationship communication. The study involved over 100 couples and found that those who felt their partner truly listened to and understood them were more likely to be satisfied in their relationship. Interestingly, the research also discovered that solid communication skills, including listening, were more significant in predicting relationship satisfaction than problem-solving or conflict-resolution skills.[i]
Going Beyond Words: The True Essence of Listening in Marriage
It is through listening that we build trust, understanding, and intimacy. Building a robust relationship isn’t just about words of affection or grand gestures; it’s the subtle art of granting your partner the freedom to express themselves uninterrupted. While it seems straightforward, resisting the urge to interject when disagreeing can be challenging. Yet, it’s crucial to hold back, allowing their thoughts to take center stage instead of overshadowing them with our own. By refraining from interrupting, we’re practicing a small act of kindness that could significantly strengthen our bond. As the saying goes, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This wisdom is incredibly relevant in a marriage relationship.
In his insightful book, ‘His Needs, Her Needs,’ Dr. Willard Harley emphasizes, “Listening to each other’s deepest feelings, thoughts, and dreams is the foundation of emotional intimacy.” Listening transcends merely hearing the words uttered by your partner. It encapsulates being present, providing your undivided attention, and understanding their sentiments and viewpoints.
Understanding Communication: The Four Cornerstones of a Message.
As we’ve seen, listening in marriage isn’t just about hearing the words being said; it’s about understanding the underlying sentiments and the overall communication context. One helpful framework that can help deepen our understanding of this process is “The Four Sides of a Message,” developed by German psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun in 1981. This model, also known as the four-ear model in Germany, suggests that every message has four facets, each representing a different aspect of communication. These four sides are factual information, self-revelation, relationship, and appeal.
What it is: The factual aspect of a message relates to the actual, tangible details it contains. It represents the explicit information the speaker wishes to share with the listener. For instance, when someone says, “The traffic light is green,” they’re providing factual information about the color of the traffic light. Essentially, this facet of a message covers the specific content the speaker aims to express.
What that means for us: By recognizing and understanding the factual side of a message, couples can ensure they are on the same page regarding the factual content being conveyed. This clarity promotes effective communication and reduces misunderstandings. Proverbs 14:15 says, “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” As followers of Christ, we’re encouraged to pursue truth and understanding in all things, including in the messages communicated by our spouse.
How to Apply: When communicating, aim to express your factual information as clearly as possible. In your listening, make sure to grasp the factual information the other person is sharing. If you’re not sure, ask clarifying questions. Don’t assume you understand; make sure you do.
What it is: The aspect of self-revelation in a message pertains to what the communication inadvertently discloses about the person initiating it. This might encompass their emotions, beliefs, principles, or underlying motives. For instance, when someone declares, “I’m tired,” they inadvertently offer insight into their physical condition. Such self-disclosure can promote a deeper understanding between partners and foster a closer connection within a marital bond.
What that means for us: When partners pay attention to the self-revelation aspect of communication, they become more attuned to each other’s feelings, attitudes, values, and intentions. This deeper understanding fosters empathy, emotional connection, and intimacy within the relationship. The Bible emphasizes the importance of self-revelation and understanding others in Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
How to Apply: Pay attention to what the speaker reveals about themselves, their state of mind, or their emotions through their words. When you are the one speaking, be conscious of what your words might be revealing about you. This can be a powerful tool for introspection.
What it is: The relationship side of a message refers to how the sender views and values their relationship with the receiver. This side of the message is often conveyed through tone, body language, and choice of words. For example, a statement made with a warm tone and a smile may indicate a positive relationship, while a statement made with a cold tone and a frown may suggest a strained relationship.
What that means for us: The relationship side of a message provides insight into how the sender views and values their connection with the receiver. Being aware of the tone, body language, and choice of words can help couples gauge the health of their relationship and address any potential issues. Ephesians 4:2-3 guides us: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Understanding and respecting each other’s perspectives helps preserve unity and peace in a relationship.
How to Apply: Notice the non-verbal cues in the communication. This might be the tone of voice, body language, or facial expressions. These can give you clues about your relationship with the speaker. When you’re the one speaking, be aware of your non-verbal cues and what they might be conveying about your relationship with the listener.
What it is: The appeal side of a message refers to what the sender wants the receiver to do. It’s the part of the message that contains a request, suggestion, or command. For example, if a person says, “Could you please close the door?” the appeal is for the other person to close the door.
What that means for us: Understanding the appeal in a message enables partners to identify any requests, suggestions, or directives that are being proposed. By actively listening to the appeal, couples can respond appropriately and address each other’s needs, fostering cooperation and mutual support. In Philippians 2:4, we read: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This scripture underlines the importance of considering our partner’s needs and desires, something that’s possible only when we genuinely listen and understand their appeal.
How to Apply: Pay attention to what the speaker asks, even if it’s not explicitly stated. This can often be the most critical part of the message. When you’re the speaker, make your appeals clear and direct to avoid confusion or misinterpretation.
By integrating the understanding of these four sides of a message into our listening practices, we can substantially uplift the quality of communication within a marriage. It enables us to fully comprehend what our partner is saying, what they are revealing about themselves, how they perceive our relationship, and what they are appealing for. Such comprehension lets us respond empathetically and effectively, paving the way for a robust, intimate bond.
Colossians 4:6 guides us in line with this: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” By listening actively and acknowledging the insights provided by ‘The Four Sides of a Message,’ we align ourselves with this scriptural wisdom, fostering a thriving marital relationship anchored in mutual respect and understanding.
Now… Are we ready to truly listen, deciphering not only our partners’ words but also their sentiments and intentions? Our willingness to do so can have profound implications on the vitality and longevity of our marital bond.
Reflective Conclusion and a Look Forward
The second blog will look at tips to improve your listening skills and stay focused during conversations. This includes active and reflective listening, body language, and empathy. Let my burger moment be a lesson for all of us; listening is essential in marriage. It extends beyond merely hearing your partner’s words—it’s about being present, fully engaged, and understanding their sentiments and viewpoints. Delving into the “Four Sides of a Message” offered us a deeper understanding of how communication works, illustrating how every message carries more than just the apparent information—it also reveals something about ourselves, our relationship with our partner, and our underlying intentions or desires.
Challenge and Invitation: Are You Ready to Listen?
But remember, much like a well-grilled burger, listening takes time, practice, and patience. It’s about creating a space where your partner feels heard, valued, and understood. It’s about acknowledging their perspectives, even when they differ from your own. As we saw, the repercussions of not listening may not always be as immediate or tangible as missing out on a delicious burger. Still, over time, they can erode the very foundation of your relationship.
So, challenge yourself next time you find yourself in a conversation with your loved one. Press pause on your thoughts and truly listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak—dive into their words, understand their body language, and sense the tone behind their voice. Treat each conversation as an opportunity to understand your partner better, deepen your connection, and, ultimately, enhance your relationship.
In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with distractions, let’s consciously listen more and speak less to foster a culture of empathy, understanding, and mutual respect. After all, a thriving marriage hinges on open lines of communication and the power of listening.
Listening truly is an art that requires patience, understanding, and genuine empathy. In my experience, it has proven to be a crucial factor in nurturing a fulfilling and resilient marriage. But what about you? Have you had a similar experience where active listening has transformed your relationship? Or perhaps, a ‘burger moment’ of your own? Share your stories in the comments below. Let’s continue this conversation and learn from each other’s experiences. After all, the journey of marriage is a shared one, and together we can enhance our understanding and appreciation of the powerful tool of active listening.
Now that we’ve explored the four sides of a message, why not put this knowledge into action? Here’s what you can do:
Practice Mindful Listening: The next time your spouse talks to you, consciously identify the four sides of the message. What facts are they telling you? What are they revealing about themselves? What does the message say about your relationship? What do they want you to do?
And now, I leave you with this question: Are you ready to listen, truly listen, to your partner? Remember, the future of your relationship may depend on it.
[i] Peterson, K. M., & Rollins, B. C. (2014). Effective Communication: A Critical Factor in Building Strong Family Relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(5), 967-978. doi:10.1111/jomf.12132