My eyes burned as I watched Adam take a big bite of ice cream cake. It was my 24th birthday and while I should have been in a celebratory mood, I was anything but.
I was recovering from my second round of a stomach bug in less than a week. I was frustrated that I was still sick, frustrated that our limited time together (we were dating long distance) had to be spent throwing up in the bathroom, and especially frustrated I couldn’t enjoy my favorite dessert on my birthday. I had told Adam all this not 10 minutes before I sat there watching him eat ice cream. As you can imagine this soured my mood even more.
“I just want to eat ice cream for my birthday! Is that too much to ask?” I had whined to him 10 minutes earlier. Adam assured me that I would get better soon and convinced me to join him in the kitchen, where he served me some bland food that would be easy on my stomach. Then he sat down to his own dish of leftover ice cream cake.
“Did you listen to anything I just told you?” I asked accusingly.
Adam’s face dropped as he realized his mistake. He had been supportive in being there for me when I cried, but hadn’t really taken to heart what I had said. He was going through the motions of listening, without actually listening. He had heard the sound coming out of my mouth, but hadn’t listened to my verbal and non-verbal cues.
Good communication is often thought of as couples continually talking back and forth to one another about their hopes, dreams, struggles, and daily logistics. Sure, talking is a good start, but true communication goes much deeper than that. For communication to be truly effective couples must also engage in something called active listening — this means that your body language indicates that you are giving your spouse your full attention. It doesn’t work for the details to go in one ear and out the other. I know I need Adam to actively listen. His nose can’t be in a book, or playing with our kids. I need all of him, no distractions.
Adam isn’t the only one at fault here, I struggle with listening too. My husband is deliberate and careful when choosing his words. It’s something I admire greatly about him. But, at times, my impatience gets the best of me, interrupting him during a long pause, before he can even finish. For example, one such conversation went as follows:
“I was hoping that next week…” Adam begins. “We could clean the basement?” I suggest.
“Go out to eat?” I offer.
“I know, do some landscaping?” I miss again.
“Will you just let me finish?
Both of us have come to realize that communication is not just talking, but actively listening as well. If I don’t listen well to what Adam is saying, I can easily misunderstand what he is trying to tell me, resulting in frustration and most likely an argument. When Adam takes the time to truly listen to what I am saying, I feel valued, cherished and loved. I know he feels the same way when I patiently listen to what it is he wants to tell me.
Sometimes truly listening means we need to remind each other to give our full attention, or even that the conversation needs to wait until a later point in time, like when the kids are in bed. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better. It’s an exciting thing because when we communicate better our love also grows deeper, leading to a greater joy and intimacy for our relationship.