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Is it possible to really listen to a spouse (or other loved one) who is furious with you? Maybe you betrayed them or simply have been insensitive. No matter the cause, if you want to keep the relationship, there’s no better time to listen well.
To listen well is a skill. You can learn to listen better if you want to. Hearing and understanding your spouse won’t guarantee their healing or their forgiveness. But it is both the least and the most you can do.
It’s the least you can do because listening does accomplish something. Listening can validate another’s pain and help him or her move beyond it. It’s the most you can do because there’s no way to undo whatever you did to upset your spouse.
In saying all this I’m making a few assumptions:
- You are guilty of hurting your spouse in some way.
- Your spouse is justifiably angry with you.
- You want to do what you can to heal your relationship.
Listen and Understand Before Expecting Forgiveness
To be guilty is to be in need of forgiveness. But your spouse might not be close to being ready to forgive you. Be patient with the one who is struggling to forgive. It’s okay for them to take some time to work through the pain and be completely ready to forgive.
Jesus commands us to forgive one another because of all He has forgiven us. But shallow forgiveness (in word only) isn’t what Jesus wants from us. He wants us to mean what we say with all our hearts. See The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant for more details (Matthew 18:21-35).
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.Matthew 6:14-15 NIV
The command to forgive doesn’t depend on the other’s sincerity, however, you can certainly make it easier by being genuinely sorry. Listening isn’t a substitute for repentance, but it can be evidence you are changing your ways.
Listen By Focusing on the Other Person
When you are guilty where is your attention? It’s on you, right? Relief from the agony of guilt is an urgent need, not unlike needing relief from hunger, tiredness, or even a full bladder. How well can you concentrate on another’s concern in these situations?
Before you can be attentive to the one you hurt, you must first take your guilt to the Lord. After you have repented and secured His forgiveness, you will be able to give your undivided attention to caring for your spouse.
So many people attempt to “be there” for their spouse when they are still caught up in the mess of their guilt. You can tell if this is you by how you respond. When your spouse talks about how they are hurting, you aren’t listening well if you immediately shift the focus to you with something like, “I already told you I’m sorry” or “I feel terrible about what I did.”
Instead of starting with “I…” keep your spouse in the spotlight. Let their concerns be the focus. You already focused on yourself by hurting them, don’t repeat the offense.
There is one exception to this rule. If the person you hurt wants to hear what is going on in your heart, then you can meet their need by letting some of the focus rest on you. Maintain a healthy balance but always be prepared to serve the needs of the one you hurt.
Listening that focuses on your loved one requires a substantial amount of effort, but the payoff is worth it.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.