Friday, April 27, 2012

Take the Time to Listen

I remember an episode of the TV program “Doc.” A woman patient had complained about eye problems and the star of the show asked for her mascara (that’s the makeup women use on their eyelashes, for anyone who doesn’t know). He sniffed it and told her to throw it out and buy a new one, it was rancid. She was impressed and asked how he knew that the problem was her mascara. He responded, “I just listened to you.”

The next day, when he arrived at the clinic, he found the waiting room filled with that woman’s friends. They hadn’t come for any medical reason, just that they wanted to see him, like an animal in the zoo. They were all impressed in seeing a man who actually listened.

Women all over the world complain that their husbands never listen to them. While I think that might be slightly exaggerated, I’d have to agree that it’s based on a core truth, men basically don’t take the time to listen to their wives. All too often, we tune them out, making their words part of the background, while we think about something else.

Granted, a lot of what a woman says may seem like unimportant drivel to us guys; but it isn’t to them. Just because we’re not interested in what Suzie said about Megan doesn’t mean that our wives don’t consider it of grave importance; in fact, it might actually be important.

The thing is, right in the middle of talking about the local gossip, her problems dealing with the kids and the delivery man and all the other things that our wives talk about, they do talk about things that are important to both of us. It’s just that we have to filter out the filler, and concentrate on mining out those nuggets.

I can just see it now, a couple are talking over dinner, or should I say that she’s talking over dinner, while he’s staring off into space. Right in the middle of everything else, she drops in a sentence about how she hit a concrete post in the car that day; then she goes on to speak about other things. Because her husband isn’t listening, he misses that detail and writes off the whole conversation to his wife just using up her daily quota of words.

The next day, he gets up and as he’s leaving for work, he sees her car, with the front fender bashed in. Yelling, he storms back into the house and throws open the door to their bedroom, confronting his wife. “Why didn’t you tell me you got in an accident yesterday?” To which she responds, “I told you last night at dinner.” Of course, he doesn’t believe her, even though it’s the truth; because he hadn’t been paying attention to all the other things she said.

Listening is an acquired skill. You really can learn to listen to your wife; filtering out the unnecessary and concentrating on the important. Regardless of what you think, it’s not torture to listen to her; you actually used to like to do it when you were dating.

The key isn’t so much letting her words enter into your ears, it’s in paying attention to the message those words are conveying. It doesn’t count as listening to be sitting there while she’s talking, but you’re thinking about something else. To be listening, you need to take the time to focus your attention on her, paying attention to her words.

Women need their husbands to hear them. This is an actual need, not just a desire. Their emotional stability depends upon the ability to get things off of their hearts. That’s what listening to her does. When she’s sitting there over dinner, talking about everything that went wrong in her day, she’s not looking for solutions, she’s looking to unload her heart, so that she can feel better. Just letting her talk about it does her a world of good.

Do you realize that’s all psychologists do? They get paid the big bucks to sit there and let people talk about their problems. They don’t solve anyone’s problems. They don’t have any magical answers; they just listen.

Your wife doesn’t need some high-priced shrink to hear what she says; she needs you to do so. That will give her the outlet she needs, and you might even find out a few things that you need to know. Listen to her.


  1. Always interesting to read a man's point of view. "Unimportant drivel" - ouch! But I know what you mean. If I start talking about something like whether or not I'd rather choose pink or beige, my husband begs for mercy. The good news is that if he asks me to change the subject, I know he was really listening!

    I have to disagree a little about psychologists just listening. A really good psychologist also asks the right questions, listens to your answers, and follows up. That is how he or she helps people solve their own problems. In the daily marriage conversation, your wife probably doesn't want you to solve her problems, but she will appreciate it if you ask a few questions as a way of showing that you care.

  2. Ah, but Rosemary, asking those questions is part of active listening. That's how he gets you to talk. I've talked about that before, but probably need to bring it up again.