What A Two-Year Old Taught Me About Listening


I’ve been spending a lot of time with my two-year old granddaughter, and boy does this little girl loves to talk! She starts when she wakes up and doesn’t stop until she’s asleep.

This morning, as I was taking her to school (Mothers Day Out), she was talking non-stop. So to give my ears a rest, I turned on some music and turned up the volume. But she would not be deterred. She promptly told me it was too loud and to turn it off!

If you spend any time around two-year olds, you know how easy it can be to stop listening and tune then out. But my granddaughter will not let you get away with that. If she says something, and you don’t respond, she will keep repeating herself…over and over again…until you respond by telling her what you heard her say. If you interrupt her or try to get by with some sort of generic response, she will repeat herself with greater volume and intensity. And heaven help you if you respond in a way that completely gives away the fact that you weren’t really listening. Then, she’s not just frustrated, she’s mad! And did I mention that on top of all of this, she wants you to constantly be looking at her when she’s talking?!

So, on the way to school this morning, as my granddaughter was talking away, I found myself thinking, “I wonder how often this happens between my spouse and me. How often does she have to repeat herself just to get some acknowledgment that she’s been heard? How often do I give her some generic response that will hopefully satisfy her need to be heard, but still leaves her dissatisfied? How often do I respond with something that is so off topic, she’s angry because it confirms I wasn’t really listening?”

I know this is going to sound like a typical guy thing to say, but listening is one of the hardest things you must do in marriage, because it’s taxing and time consuming. It may not be as hard for wives as it is for husbands, but that doesn’t mean wives don’t struggle with listening…especially when husbands are talking about things their wives don’t understand or don’t care about.

So here are a few things my granddaughter has taught me about listening to your spouse. When your spouse is talking to you…

  • It’s best if you look at them when they’re talking. This is especially hard if your a little on the ADHD side and easily distracted. So, it may mean you have to put down the device, pause the TV, and look them in the eyes. But remember, there use to be a time in your relationship, when this was a plus, not a minus!
  • You shouldn’t interrupt them. Some of you may be thinking, “Then I’ll still be listening to them when the sun comes up! I’ll lose track of what they’re trying to tell me! I’ll never get a chance to talk!” If you feel you have to interrupt your spouse:
    • Only interrupt to clarify what they’re saying, not to make your point.
    • Apologize for interrupting.
    • Tell them you just want to better understand what they’re saying.
  • You need to respond by first telling them what you heard them say. Like my granddaughter, the only way your spouse knows if you’ve really heard them is by telling them what you heard them say. This does not mean parroting back their exact same words in a monotonous tone. (This will land you in the dog house.) Nor does this mean parroting back their exact same words in a sarcastic tone. (This will leave you wishing you could be in the dog house!) Tell them, in general, what you’ve heard and why you believe it’s important to them.
  • Only give your input after you’ve heard what they’ve said and why it’s important to them. Your spouse is not ready for your input, until they know you’ve really heard and understood them. Hint…if you’re brave at heart and want to gain some extra credit points, don’t be too quick to give your feed back. Instead say, “Tell me more.” (Husbands, this tactic is not for the faint at heart!)

Listening sounds like a small thing, but it will make a big difference in your marriage. After thirty-seven years of marriage, I still have much to learn about listening to my spouse. And this morning, I think my granddaughter was the one taking me to school.

How are you doing when it comes to listening to your spouse? Do you struggle with staying focused and engaged when they’re talking? Which of the above listening strategies do you need to incorporate or improve? Do something this week to be a better listener with your spouse. Think of it as an investment in your marriage.

Copyright © 2017 Bret Legg