~ quote from my friend Julie McCord
I think the second most common cause of divorce is failure to listen. The first reason, of course, is improper loading of the dishwasher, but that's another blog post. I think that 100% of all kids and 99.9% of all men have listening problems. (I want to remain hopeful that perhaps somewhere exists a man or two who know how to listen.) The thing is, we expect this with our kids...
"Don't take food out of the kitchen."
"Don't eat in the family room. Keep it in the kitchen!"
"Oh," said in complete surprise as if the child has never heard this rule before.
"Don't you ever listen to me? I tell you every day not to take food out of the kitchen!"
"Huh? Did you say something, Mom?"
But having to go through this routine with our spouses just does us in. I don't know about anyone else, but I already have 6 kids. I don't need a seventh. I have this wacky notion that my spouse, since he's technically an adult, should be able to listen better than the 5 year old. Call me crazy.
Seriously, I've been trying to pinpoint the exact point in the breakdown of our communication because listening is quite an involved process. One not only has to have the ability to actually hear the words, but they need to be able to comprehend and process the information once it's heard. Then they have to remember said information. And heaven forbid, they have to make a decision based on the given knowledge. There are a lot of places where communication can go awry.
The problem that happens when your spouse doesn't listen to you, aside from the fact that your kid could be left sitting at the baseball diamond because someone didn't realize someone was supposed to pick him up, or (even worse) someone could pick up the wrong flavor ice cream at the store because someone didn't hear you when you said butter pecan, is that you start to feel worthless. When the person who is supposed to love you, can't listen to you and remember what you've said, you start to feel like you're not worth listening to which is not a good thing.
"The first duty of love is to listen."
~ Paul Tillich
But never fear. I'm nothing if not helpful, therefore I've pinpointed some areas where listening breaks down and I've compiled a list of useful ideas you can use to help your spouse with his listening skills.
The Wife's Guide to Effective Listening
1. Too Many Distractions: Make sure there are no distractions around while talking to your spouse. They can't be expected to listen if the game is on tv. Or if an infomercial about some new car-care gadget is on. Or if scantily-clad girls are on. Or if Family Guy is on. Or if a fuzzy screen of just snow is on. Basically, you just want to turn the tv off.
If you have kids, try to find some space away from them for a little while. HA! Ok, after reading that one, I couldn't stop laughing. Oh, that was funny! Let's try that again, shall we? Get a babysitter and go out. I would suggest waiting until the kids have gone to bed, but most men I know hit a kind of vegetative state by the time the kids turn in. I know many men who have perfected the attentive stare even though they're actually, technically asleep. You don't want to try and communicate when they reach this state. If you're unsure if they're awake and attentive or about to start snoring, look for signs of telltale drool at the corner of their mouths.
2. The Message is Too Complex: You want to make sure you're not talking above your spouse. Don't use fancy words with more than 2 syllables. Always have less than 3 points you'd like to make. Don't switch topics on your spouse.
"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?"
~Winnie the Pooh
3. Body Language Gets Misinterpreted: For the most part, men do not "get" body language. Hands on your hips, arms folded across your chest means nothing to the menfolk. You would think that was a pretty sure-fire sign of displeasure. You would think. However, imagine this scenario: You use very obvious (to us) body language like, for example, smacking your spouse upside the head. What does he reply with? A dumbfounded, "What was that for???" Don't expect them to get the visual clues. Just skip the body language altogether.
4. Their Mind Wanders Away From Conversation: Sometimes a guy's mind just starts to drift away from the conversation. Unfortunately there's not a whole lot you can do for this one. You could be talking about how you'd like him to take out the trash before it overflows onto the floor or before mice take up residence in the garbage can, but since this is essentially a boring conversation to him, his mind will likely wander to things like how many games the Bears will win this season, or a joke that his coworker told him 15 hours ago and the punchline that's just sinking in, or the fact that he can see a good 2 inches of cleavage thanks to the shirt you're wearing. I would suggest wearing non-revealing clothing, but their minds are still capable of wandering and imagining what color bra you're wearing and if you're wearing a thong...
Still, it's a good idea to raise your volume significantly every couple minutes to make sure he's still listening/reacting to your voice. Maybe even shout out some nonsense just to see if he's paying attention. "...so, please take out the garbage CHICKEN NUGGET! when it starts to get to the top..." Or perhaps, like I do with my attention-challenged children, you might want to say, "Look at me" every few minutes to make sure their focus remains on the conversation.
5. Forgetting the Conversation Minutes Later: Sometimes your spouse is completely focused on you; they're paying attention and they're listening and understanding what you say. And then, an hour later, the conversation flies out of their brain. I suggest you write down important points you've made. Don't expect them to remember to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home tomorrow. Write it down for them. Yes, there's a good chance they'll still forget, but if you've written it down, you'll have more ammunition when you accuse him of not listening later. "I even wrote it down for you!!!"
Oh crap. OK, I might have maybe, slightly, a little bit, not heard Joe while I was writing this. I might possibly have asked him a question he might have conceivably just answered. Now, I'm not admitting to anything here, but I guess, perhaps, just maybe, if you're a guy, you can use these tips to help your wife enhance her listening skills too. You know, if, entirely hypothetically of course, your wife has some of these listening
That is all.
"If speaking is silver, then listening is gold."