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How to Get Your Mate to Listen

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Secrets of a Satisfying Marriage - Part 4 of 12
Proverbs 15:2
Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church of Icard, September 27, 1998
(Grateful acknowledgement to Rick Warren for the Sermon Series)
Proverbs 15. For four weeks we've been in a series on the Secrets of a Satisfying Marriage. Today, I want to talk about, How Can I get My Mate to listen. Talking about communication.
The number one problem in marriages today is communication breakdown. "We're on different wavelengths. I don't understand him/her! How can I get him/her to listen to me?" The Bible says that communication is not automatic. It is a skill that must be developed. The Bible teaches that there is a way of speaking -- if you learn to speak in a certain way, you can be guaranteed that the person you're talking to will listen. You can apply this whether you're married or not. At work, at school, making a presentation.
Seven steps on how to get a person to listen to you. How to speak in such a way that will guarantee that you will be heard.
Prov. 15:2 "When wise people speak they make knowledge attractive." Circle "attractive". They speak in such a way that people want to hear, want to listen. There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing simply means passively responding or listening, hearing sounds. Listening means focusing on the meaning and responding to the meaning. We don't want people to just hear us, we want them to listen to us. The Bible says that when wise people speak they make knowledge attractive -- you want to find out more of what they're talking about. How do you do that?
1. Choose the right time. If you're going to make a major presentation, a major issue in life, choose the right time. Think in your mind of an issue you'd like to deal with in your marriage to resolve, clarify it. It may be finances, sex, schedule, how to share responsibilities, out-laws, I mean in-laws.
2. Plan your presentation.
3. Begin with your mate's needs.
4. Listen first.
5. Say it positively.
6. Clarify your conclusions.
7. End with an encouraging note.
This sounds real simple but it is profound if you apply it in your life. You can take any area that you need to talk about and follow these seven steps and I guarantee you'll be heard, listened to.
Eccl. 8:6 says "There's a right time and a right way to do everything." Circle "right time". Timing is everything in communication. Every great communicator knows this. The first rule of communication is "Do it at the right time." You can have a great message, but at the wrong time,
and it will fall flat on ears that don't want to hear it. You've got to time your message. Choose a time not when they're tired, they're frustrated, ready to go to bed. You don't drop a bomb on your husband or your wife just as you're getting into bed or walking out the door. You don't do it when they're in a hurry and under pressure. You wait until the time is right. You may be ready to talk but are they ready to listen? Maybe you've been at home all day, stewing and spewing, thinking the thing through, but your mate has been out all day. They come home with a whole different set of stresses and problems. If the first thing they hear when they walk in the door is, "We've got a problem." They may walk back out. You have got to choose the right time. Don't drop bombs on people.
Columbia University did a study and found out that most violent arguments were right before meal times. The blood sugar is low, frustration is high. Bad timing equals fireworks.
Think it through first. Proverbs 16:23 "Intelligent people think before they speak. What they say is then more persuasive." If you want to be persuasive, think about it first. The better you plan what you're going to say, the more persuasive you're going to be. Don't just shoot from the hip and speak off the cuff. If you don't really think it out when you have a major issue to deal with and haven't thought it through first prayerfully, then you're not going to have the impact that you would if you plan. Planning produces persuasion. Think before you speak.
Two things you need to plan:
1) Plan your introduction
2) Plan your illustrations
On a major family conference, major family issue, you need to first plan your introduction -- How am I going to bring this subject up? Then, What examples am I going to use when I present my case?
How you introduce a subject, a touchy subject in particular, can make or break communication. Questions are a good way to introduce a conversation if they don't imply a judgement. There are certain questions you can ask that automatically put the other person on the defense. Examples of bad introductions:
If you wanted to talk about your mate's housekeeping you wouldn't say, "This place is a pig sty." "This place is so filthy the roaches are begging for Raid."
If you wanted to bring up spending, you don't say, "My mother thinks you're a tightwad."
Courtesy: "Now why don't you treat me the way Joe treats his wife?"
Responsibility: "Am I the only adult in this family?"
Sex: "Do you think we could make love before the end of the century?"
Schedule: "I know you've forgotten their names so let me reintroduce you to your children."
These are bad introductions. You need to plan a way to introduce the subject. And you need to plan your illustrations. Have some examples, some "for instances". A good book to read, The Language of Love, by Gary Smalley. It talks about how to write word pictures that will communicate to your mate. We think in pictures. It talks about how to use illustrations and examples to get your point across.
Ephesians 4:29 "Speak only what is helpful for building up others according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Circle the word "need" and "benefit" -- those are the two keys to capturing attention when you want to communicate. Needs and benefits. This is the contact point. No matter who you want to talk to, start with their needs, their hurts, their goals, their interests. You'll guarantee an audience. In communication the listener is always thinking, "Why should I listen? How is this going to benefit me?" If you want to capture the attention of a person, you first start by telling them up front about what you're going to talk about that will benefit them and you'll guarantee undivided attention. If, on the other hand, you don't make clear up front how it's going to help them out and benefit them, they may hear you but they probably won't listen.
Every Sunday I do this with you. I start with the need of common people -- what's the need that we have? Then I apply how the Bible relates to that. Before you bring up the subject, you need to think through, how does this relate to what they care about? How does resolving this issue be of benefit to them, satisfy them, produce more happiness to them? How will dealing with this make me a better mate to them? Start with their point of view.
Why do we do this? Because God has placed at the base of your brain what is called RAS -- the Reticular Activating System. It's a little part of your brain and it is a God given filter that He has placed in all of our minds so that we don't have to consciously reply to every stimuli. If you had to consciously respond to every sight, sound, noise you'd go crazy. God has placed in the back of your mind a filter that filters out things. Studies have proven that only three things get through -- that capture our attention:
1) Things that threaten us
2) Things we value
3) Things that are unique
You can threaten your mate and I guarantee you'll get their attention. But that's not a legitimate way in a loving relationship. You can be unique -- dye your hair purple and be dressed all funny -- and they'd probably notice you. But that's not a legitimate way either. But if you start with what they value, what their needs are, what their goals are, you have a built in audience because the message gets through the filter that God has placed in our minds.
Communication flows when you show interest in their needs, their goals, their hurts, their interests. Communication is blocked when all you care about is your own needs. Start with their needs, their agenda.
Be willing to hear them out first before you talk about it. Why? Communication is a dialogue. Proverbs 18:13 "Listen before you answer. If you don't you're being stupid and insulting."
Have you ever been so anxious to make a point that you had absolutely no idea what the other person just said? You get so caught up in making your point that you're not listening at all. You're only thinking about what you're going to say next. Listen before you answer. If you don't you're being stupid and insulting. We get into trouble if we speak before we think. We get into trouble when we make assumptions. How many arguments have been started by "But I assumed..." "But I thought you meant..." Preconceived ideas, preconceived images get us into trouble.
The problem is the longer you're married the more assumptions you make. You think you've heard it all before so you click out. But you haven't.
James 1:19 "Be quick to listen and slow to speak." That would solve a lot of marriage problems. Why don't we do this? Because listening takes effort; it's not natural for you to listen. It's more natural for you to talk than for you to listen. We have a tendency to not listen. Studies say we only hear about 20% of everything that is said. We don't listen so it takes concentrated effort. God gave you two ears and one mouth. That means you ought to listen twice as much as you talk. That's the way God intends for it to be.
When you listen, listen with your eyes. You watch body language. We say "actions speak louder than words" and that's true. You respond more to what people feel about you than what they say to you. So does your mate. People respond more to what we are feeling about them, than they respond to what we're actually saying. It's important that you watch body language.
Studies have shown that only 7% of what we communicate is through our words -- verbal. 43% of what you communicate to your husband or wife is by the tone of your voice. How fast or how slow you speak, the rate, the volume, other audio qualities. The remaining 50% of what you communicate is by body language -- facial expressions, gestures, posture -- those say it all. Frustration comes when you send double messages to your mate. When you say, "I'm not mad!" and every bone in your body is saying you're lying through your teeth. When your body says one thing and your mouth says something else, that's a mixed message and that causes friction and frustration in a relationship. You need to learn to listen with your eyes and get the real message.
After you've done that and you've listened, now you're ready to say your part, ready to bring up your viewpoint. How do you bring up your viewpoint?
Never type cast yourself as simply the teller of bad news in the family. Never be the one who is known as always saying, "We've got a problem." There's a lot of negative in many marriages. What do you do? Ignore them? No. Pretend they don't exist? No. Hide them under the carpet? No. What do you do?
Say it positively. Learn to be realistic and optimistic at the same time. That is what is called living by faith. Only as a Christian do you have the power to do that. Be realistic about the problem and yet be positive about it at the same time. "I believe God can give us the power." I'm realistic, I recognize there is an issue here, a problem, a difficulty. But I'm optimistic because I believe with God's help all things are possible, I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, I believe if we ask anything God will do it. That's what it means to live by faith. Be realistic and optimistic at the same time. You say it in positive terms.
Proverbs 16:21 "A mature person is known for his understanding. The more pleasant his words, the more persuasive he is." Circle "pleasant" and "persuasive". I'm never persuasive when I'm abrasive. The more pleasant your words the more persuasive you become. The most positive speaker is the most persuasive speaker. It's a mark of maturity and understanding. Any fool can be a critic. They make monuments to people who are criticized all of their lives. But you've never seen a monument to a critic. Anybody can do it. Anybody can see the bad in something. The more persuasive you want to be the more pleasant you need to be.
Labeling doesn't work. It simply reinforces what's happening. Nagging doesn't work. Judging doesn't work. A positive approach persuades. Say it positively.
What do I do if I've got real bad news? Share it right up at the front. Don't wait and pull it out at the end. Clearly identify it in a realistic way. Identify the problem in a factual, non personal, non derogatory way. Do it without getting personal about it. Then you quickly move to the constructive mode where you start saying, "Let's fix it. Here's some solutions. What do you think?" A lot of marriages are long on diagnosis and short on prescription. No wonder one of the mates never wants to talk. You're just rehashing the same thing and never get anywhere. You start saying "What are we going to do to change? What actions are we going to take? What are some compromises we're going to make?" Move in a positive way.
Most of all, you need to state your faith. This is what it means to have a Christian home. You can believe with God's help we can change. I believe with God's help, we can be different. We can resolve this problem.
The fact of the matter is, you are a bundle of both positive and negative characteristics. So am I. We all have weaknesses and we all have strengths. Let's say, the guy you married, 70% of his personality you really like. He's a nice guy. But there's 30% about this person that irritates you to no end. You have a choice: You can focus on the 70% you do like and be happy and be grateful for it. Or you can spend the rest of your life trying to change the 30% you don't like and be miserable the rest of your life. It's your choice. You need to focus on what's good and love that person for what's good about them and put up with the negative. There is no "Mr. Right". There is no Prince Charming who is perfect and there is no Cinderella who is perfect except in fairy tales. It's your choice. Put up with the bad and focus on the good instead of focusing all the time on what you want to change. Say it positively.
When you've had a major discussion about a key issue in your marriage, it's very important you get to this stage and most couples don't. That's why they go round and round in circles. After you've talked it out, you need to summarize what you've said, recap it and restate what you've decided on as a result and restate what you have not decided on. Get very clear about it.
Philippians 4:2"Agree with each other in the Lord." Agree with what you agree about and clarify what you're still having disagreements about.
The major problems that Kay and I have had in our marriage, many if not most of them came because we had a conversation about a particular issue and as we walked out one of us thought the issue was settled, the other one didn't. It wasn't clear. We both hadn't settled it. You have an argument or a discussion. In your mind you think it's settled. But because you didn't clarify it, in your mate's mind it's not settled at all. Or maybe in their mind it is settled but in your mind it's not. Vagueness causes problems.
Be specific. When you come to the conclusion of your conversation on whatever key issue you talked about, you need to be specific and understand exactly what has happened. Because vagueness causes problems. Unless you both know where you've been, where you're headed for in the future, and what you both can expect as a result of the conversation, then the conversation is worthless. You are going to have it again and again and again because you've never resolved it. You keep bringing it up. Soon, one will say, Do we have to rehash this again? Yes, we do because we never clarified the conclusions last time on what we were going to do. You need to make specific statements.
A vague statement is "I want you to come home early." What is early? Early for whom?
A specific statement is "I'd like you to be home by 5 p.m. Pacific Standard time." That's very precise. No grey area.
A vague statement: "I'll do it later."
Specific: "I'll do it before the decade ends."
Vague: "I guess."
Specific: You need to either say Yes, or No, or I'm hesitant about this because...
Vague: "I hit a sale today."
Specific: "Don't try to use the Visa card; it's over the limit."
Vague: "You might need gas."
Specific: "Good luck getting to the corner."
Vague: "You really look great tonight."
Specific: "I'm hot to trot for a night of passion."
Be specific. Don't drop hints. Your husband/wife is not a mind reader. Spell it out. Draw a diagram. Body language. Whatever it takes. When you come to a common conclusion it produces contentment in your marriage. You need to clarify it.
Proverbs 12:25 "A word of encouragement does wonders." Exit lines are important. End on a high note. Even if you had a very heated discussion where both of you took some major hits, where maybe feelings were raw and egos were bruised a little bit, both of you took some heavy duty criticism and frankness that hurt, even if you're very, very angry at each other, you need to conclude the conversation by reaffirming three things:
1) Your commitment to the marriage. "I want you to know that right now, even though I can't stand the sight of you, I'm committed to make this marriage work. I'm irritated, mad, upset, disappointed, but I'm committed to making the marriage work."
2) Reaffirm your love for your mate. Love is a choice. Can you be angry and love somebody at the same time? You bet. The people you love the most can make you the most angry. Can you love and hate somebody at the same time? Sure. Love is commitment, commitment to give a person what they need, not what they deserve.
3) Reaffirm a sense of optimism that God is going to help you out and you're making progress. At least you're talking about it -- that's better than most couples. If you're talking about it you're making some progress. It may be minute or incremental, but I'm committed to the fact that I believe with God's help we can make this thing work.
Some of you are saying, "This is too much trouble." It's worth it. The prize is worth the price. You need to do these steps. I'm not suggesting that every time you talk you need to go through these seven steps. That's ridiculous. Save this for the heavy weight issues in your marriage. When you've got a big issue that is not being resolved, then you pull this thing out and think the thing through, plan it, work on it, decide how to deal with it in the spirit of respect and love. End with an encouraging word.
Homework: Go home and identify the substitutes for communication in your marriage. They are the things you do instead of talking together. It may be watching TV, listening to the radio, listening to the stereo, hobby, reading the paper. But identify the things that even when you're together you don't talk because of these substitutes. Make a list and bring them back next week. The heartbeat of a marriage is the communication system. These are principles from God's word. They work.
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