“ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?” This may be a reoccurring phrase you yell at your spouse in the heat of an argument. It can be frustrating when you are trying to pour out your heart and your spouse is tuning you out. In order for a relationship to thrive good communication must be learned and with good communication comes good listening. Listening is an integral part of how you understand and perceive others and vice versa. The only way you can fully understand a situation is with a listening ear.
Thoughtful listening is like a superpower, that anyone can have as long as they work at it, because it’s a way of listening that comes from the heart. Thoughtful listening is empathic and compassionate, it is the most effective way to listen and can bring a feeling of safety in a relationship. It promotes healing. Although in the heat of the moment when your blood pressure is rising because your last button was pushed it can be easy to push aside any thoughtful listening and only listen to respond, and usually the response is one that doesn’t bring healing but maybe more hurt and destruction. Now your partner is not listening to you and you are no longer listening to them. It becomes this cycle of both sides feeling unheard and the only possible way the other person might decide to hear is if you yell a little bit louder than them. But really a screaming match just raises volume; it doesn’t promote a kind, receptive listening ear. It ends up becoming a competition of who can get the last word in. So before answering the question, “how do you argue with your partner so they will listen?” You must ask why? Why is my partner not listening to me during an argument?
The delivery of how something is said is just as important as what is being said. You see, you could be inadvertently sabotaging the conversations you have with your spouse by having a negative or argumentative tone, speaking in a round about way, or by being passive-aggressive. So lets discuss some ways of speaking that may be causing your spouse to tune you out.
Lengthy wording: Have you ever had something you wanted to share with your spouse that you felt might be a touchy topic? So instead of going straight to the point you almost go around it in fear of receiving a negative response. This could lead to you being more lengthy and long-winded causing the point to get lost with a frustrated spouse who still doesn’t understand.
Lecturing: No one likes to feel like they are being lectured or preached at, especially when its done in such a way that makes them feel belittled and less than. If you are speaking to your partner in this way, while pointing your finger and claiming everything you say is the “right” way then the words you are saying whether right or not will not be received well and ears will be turned off. A “know-it-all” attitude doesn’t promote good listening.
Hurtful words and comments: When you become angry or frustrated do you have a loose tongue? Do you immediately feel defensive and spew hurtful words or comments? When there is a history of hurtful, insulting, intimidating, dismissive and disrespectful words that come in response to your spouse’s feelings or opinions they may find listening and acknowledging you is not something your spouse enjoys. This way of speaking may lead to your partner feeling defensive and on guard whenever an argument or even a conversation is being had.
Generalizing: Throwing around words like “always”, “never”, or “constantly” is all too easy but these absolute words aren’t fair or even accurate. When you negatively generalize it makes a person feel attacked and like all you see is their faults. These type of statements brings the assumption that a person can’t measure up and can’t do anything right. No one likes to be seen for only his or her faults and as a defense mechanism they may disregard anything you have to say.
One sided: You may so desperately want your spouse to hear you that you end up monopolizing the entire conversation. You may talk so much they feel they can’t get a word in. So instead of trying they give up and tune you out. A conversation takes two people and if your spouse feels like your not willing to leave space in the conversation to listen to them then why would they fully and thoughtfully listen to you.
Good relationships are a result of good communication, which means as much as you desire for your spouse to listen to you, you also need to learn how to be a good listener. Listening encourages a person to open up their heart; it allows vulnerability and gives the opportunity to fully see a person. However in a world that keeps us busy and regularly on the go, the more truly listening to one another can be difficult. But it is absolutely worth it! And before you can learn how to speak in such a way that promotes listening you must learn how to thoughtfully listen first. Proverbs 18:13 says it this way, “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” Here are some ways to be considerate in your listening so that you can become one who “hears” when someone is speaking:
Hear Empathetically: Empathy is understanding and sharing the feeling of another person, in other words put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and choose to see things through their perspective. No matter if you are trying to resolve a conflict or share about each other’s day, hearing a person through the lens of empathy makes a person feel secure. When a person needs to vent about a situation about their day, it can be quit easy to tune them out and throw in a couple, “uhuh’s” and “yeah” to give the illusion of listening, when really your mind is elsewhere and you’re not hearing them. So instead be mindful and make an effort to see though their eyes and you will begin to see where they are coming from and why they may be frustrated.
Hear the emotion: When the conversation is hard it can be easy to get wrapped up in your own emotions rather than listening to what is being said. It is in those moments that your emotions begin to dictate your reactions and you may say or do something you end up regretting. Therefore take a minute to not only breathe but to fully hear how your spouse is feeling the emotions they are portraying. Mastering the empathy side of listening will help you understand the emotions behind the words. If you can identify the emotion, whether sad, angry, frustrated, anxious, depressed, happy etc., you can respond in a more accurate and kind manner. It is important to recognize and validate what your spouse is feeling before saying and doing anything so that you can remain in control of your own emotions.
Hear without biased opinions: When you listen with care you desire to understand why a person thinks or feels the way they do about a certain topic, and you can’t do that when your own bias is clouding what they are saying. “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). If you and your spouse are caught in a never ending fight because you are both too stubborn to let go of your own opinion you will never get anywhere in your communication. To fully hear you may need to set aside your differences and make a conscious choice to understand where they are coming from. You don’t have to change your opinion but you do need to be respectful of someone else. It is alright to agree to disagree in a calm and civil manner. Ultimately your spouse does deserve to be heard.
Hear with love: You don’t just communicate with your mouth and ears, you use your entire body, and body language can say a lot. So using loving gestures like holding eye contact, nodding to affirm your listening or even reaching out and touching them or holding their hand, these can be sweet signals that you hear them. When a person is talking and you immediately turn towards them, maybe even stop what you’re doing, turn off the TV, phone or device, you are communicating that they are valuable and loved. It is in these precious moments that you affirm to your spouse how much you love and care for them. Being present with someone and being attentive to every word they are saying is a gift. Your spouse is worth your time and attention.
The Bible tells us in James 1:19 that we must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Therefore even God’s word tells us that listening and fully hearing is more important than speaking because speaking can get us in trouble. “Indeed we all make mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way” (James 3:2). There is power in the tongue; therefore it is wise to be a good listener and to fully understand before spouting out words that could cause division or strife. Although on the flip side of all that, yes being a good listener is very important, but being heard offers value as well. Listening and hearing can’t all be one sided because you both have unique perspectives and you both have different ways you want to be heard, which take us back to HOW we need to listen.
You see the sword can cut both ways meaning the greatest flaw we all have is well, being human. We all fall short and we all make mistakes. Selfishness, wanting what “I” want, is our natural bend. So instead of thoughtfully listening and hearing the needs of our husband or wife it’s easy to complain and whine about how: “he doesn’t listen to what I need”, “She is never happy with anything I do” or “he refuses to discuss our problems”, “she will not apologize for anything.” To be heard, you must be willing to hear first, but lets discuss some ways you can speak to your spouse that will most likely lead to open ears and an open heart. Raising your voice is NOT one of them.
Speak concisely: When you want to be heard, often times less is more. It’s when you beat down a point that ears tune out. So take a moment to say what exactly needs to be said and then wait. Wait for the words to sink in to your spouse’s heart and mind and then wait for a response. Don’t expect a response right away; allow a “pause” in the conversation. It’s when you poke, and prod that can make an argument escalate.
Choose soothing words: Don’t be abrasive, instead choose to speak with kindness and love in your heart. Remember the golden rule “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” (Matt. 7:12). Keep the conversation civil by not making your partner feel like they are being criticized, blamed, or shamed in anyway. As much as you may want to “change” your spouse, you must recognize the only person you can speak for is yourself. Give your perspective without pointing the finger or spouting judgment and opinions.
Take ownership: As easy as it is to cast blame that is the quickest way to shut your spouse down. Don’t make accusations; instead speak from the heart by sharing your emotions and your perspective. Fault rarely lies solely on one person’s shoulders, so be willing to acknowledge your portion of wrongdoing and be quick to seek forgiveness. When you are quick to apologize for forgiveness, rather than shouting blame, you will create a safe place that will keep them from bringing their guard up.
Balance negativity with the positive: No one enjoys being around or listening to someone who likes to complain. Negativity can drain a person and can come across as being a nag. So create a positive atmosphere by finding the silver lining, which comes from knowing and understanding your partner’s character, then couple it with something that might be weighing on you. For example, if your spouse is working himself or herself into the ground and they regularly bring work home with them leaving no time for family, perhaps you say something like this, “You are such a hard worker and I’m so grateful for the way you provide for our family. I appreciate all that you do, but I would also like us to be more mindful and intentional in planning family time.” Speak to what you need and want without putting your partner down.
The quicker you recognize that arguing with your partner so they will listen begins with you and how well you attentively hear and listen, the quicker your relationship will reap the benefits. Listening opens up doors that will promote on-going and open communication. You will no longer feel like you have to walk on eggshells when it comes to communicating with your partner. Listening demonstrates a genuine concern and interest in another person, which leads to person feeling, loved and accepted. Listening builds a platform for mutual respect, trust and understanding. It promotes harmony within relationships and gives opportunities for successful conflict resolution. Listening opens the door for personal growth by giving opportunities to put others needs before oneself. Relationships are developed and able to sustain through the way two people listen to one another. God gave us a gift when He gave us two ears and only one mouth because hearing a person with attentive ears can be sweet treasure as you begin to fully see their heart, and the masterpiece God created them to be. SO LISTEN UP!
Trauma is an experience that is disturbing and causes deep distress. You wake up in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke and a wailing fire alarm. Your body immediately goes into fight or flight mode knowing you must get your family out of your burning home. What if you are coming home from a date night with your spouse when all of a sudden another car collides with yours sending you into a life threatening tailspin. Your sweet 2 year old is playing in the front yard while you are sitting on the front steps of your home. You look down for just a minute and within that time your toddler walks into the street with on coming traffic. You encounter a home intruder and immediately your home is no longer a safe place.
These overwhelming scenarios are traumatic experiences that pose an extreme threat to yourself or to someone you are close to. When a person endures a dangerous and frightening threat, the brain detects danger, the body responds with tense muscles, a faster heartbeat, and a shot of adrenaline through your veins. The body’s response all happens in record time, less than a second. It is the fight or flight mode the body goes in to survive. When the dangerous threat is continuous the brain can become stuck with a constant expectancy of bad things happening. It is when the brain is relentlessly preparing for fight or flight that a harmless situation, word, smell, or sound can trigger the mind bringing that person right back to the traumatic experience.
Trauma Results in Grief
Perhaps the trauma you endured was shared with your spouse and both of you experienced adrenaline shooting through the body. Now you both are dealing with the aftermath of trauma and you don’t know how to support one another. The aftermath being grief, which is a natural response to trauma. Trauma is an event that deals with extreme emotional loss: loss of a loved one, loss of trust, loss of security etc. Grief is simply a desire for everything to go back the way it was before the tragic event. It brings conflicting emotions that wage war deep within that comes from finality, or a change in what is familiar.
Grief looks different in all people, no matter if the trauma was solo or with your spouse. Therefore navigating trauma can be a great challenge, especially since it manifest differently in each individual. What might bring comfort to you may be a trigger for your spouse or just not what they need. The way you both process may be completely different, as one may be more of an internalizer while the other a talker. One person may seek comfort from their spouse while the other is struggling to hold it together for themselves.
The greatest danger to a marriage that has endured trauma is the belief that there is a certain or “right” way to grieve. Do not get entangled with comparing grief and questioning whether or not your spouse is hurting or why they don’t pull themselves together. Men and women are very different and grieving is no expectation. Choosing to become aware of how your spouse is grieving through communication, observation and vulnerability may be a difficult feat but absolutely necessary.
Common Responses to Trauma
Fear and Anxiety: When you are met with an immediate dangerous circumstance your body responds to the fear however when walking through the aftermath your brain may stay in a replay loop enduring the anxiety at even greater levels than the actual event. Then once you feel like you got a handle on your fear something triggers you causing your anxiety levels to skyrocket.
Anger: You may feel angry with the person who caused the traumatic experience or maybe you blame yourself and are angry with yourself. The anger tends to manifest through irritability towards those closest to you, such as your spouse.
Sadness: Crying is not only cleansing to the soul but it is a way for the body to slow down after a fight or flight mode, it calms the body and mind. Therefore the overwhelming emotions that come with trauma and grief can result in extreme sadness and tears.
Numbness: Your body and mind may cope by shutting down your emotions causing you to feel numb. This numbing response is a way to protect against overwhelming emotions.
Trauma tends to cause a person to have an altered view of oneself as well as the world. When you used to be able to trust most anyone you now keep your guard up and everyone at arms length away. The world before seemed relatively safe with little worry to a world that won’t ever be underestimated again, because it’s all dangerous. You are constantly questioning yourself, “Why didn’t I just leave when I was supposed to?” Or “If only I was watching more carefully.” Sleep used to be restful, now it is such a vulnerable state that your mind won’t give in, leaving you exhausted.
Trauma can bring a sense of helplessness and hopelessness making it difficult to find your bearings to move forward. Even if the traumatic experience was shared between you and your spouse you may both experience completely different symptoms that have different results, such PTSD, anxiety, depression, mood swings etc. making the recovery that much more difficult to bounce back.
All of this to say that even though individually you and your spouse will “feel” differently it doesn’t mean that your marriage has to fail. So how can two people who have walked through a traumatic experience and are weighted down by grieving hearts find comfort in one another? Trauma doesn’t have to cause a divorce but rather your marriage can survive and potentially thrive. However it will take determination and a commitment to pursue a healthy marriage. As said in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” In the midst of heartache you may need to lean into that third strand, God, to be the pillar of strength for yourself and your marriage.
As you process your trauma you and your spouse may struggle to see God in the midst of your pain. You may question if He is even there and if He is, why didn’t He stop what happened. You may even feel abandoned by Him. We live in a fallen, broken and sinful world that can result in traumatic experiences, pain, hurt and even death. Although when we cling to that third strand, we begin to find hope in Jesus. The Bible tells us that there will be trials and tribulations, sorrows and suffering but He also promised us that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6). He is with you in your pain and in your grief.
How Trauma Affects a Marriage
Trauma can bring some threats to a marriage, but thankfully we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, (Phil. 4:13) but be alert! For example, since isolation is such a heavy part of the grieving process coming together may be difficult for either one of you or possibly both of you. What you will need to remember is that you don’t need to grieve alone you are in this together. However closeness will need to be built upon because ignoring one another can be disastrous. When children are in the home it can make it difficult for a couple to focus on each other.
Men and women have different basic human ego needs that may cause tension if those desires are not fulfilled. Men often feel most loved when they are respected and have their sexual needs met, while women need tenderness and understanding. These are needs that can be hard to fulfill when you’ve undergone trauma. Depression may take a front seat to passion causing a woman to struggle meeting the sexual needs of her husband. Not to mention pleasure may feel a bit awkward in the midst of grief. On the other hand, a man, who best releases tension, and connects, with his spouse through physical intimacy, may find it difficult to offer tenderness and understand when he is struggling to pinpoint his own emotions on the traumatic experience. You must be intentional and reach out to one another during these heart-wrenching times, which begs the question, “How can a couple with shared trauma support one another and help each other heal?
Supporting Your Spouse
It’s OK to “feel”: Trauma is no easy feat to recover from quickly and it may take time and a process to overcome it all. Therefore, don’t try to fix it! Don’t attempt to be your spouse’s healer and try to make it all better. The brain needs to take the time to process the trauma; so support your spouse by not putting so much pressure on them, and give yourself some slack as well, especially if you feel you’re not bouncing back as quickly as you’d hoped.
Be a good listener: Simply be available for each other, when one of you is experiencing trauma symptoms be quick to listen by fully hearing them. Be understanding by making statements like “I hear you saying this is really difficult right now” or “I understand that is hard to deal with.” There is power in being present for one another.
Check in with each other: Become self-aware of yours and your spouse’s emotional state. Intentionally ask the question, “What can I do to make the day easier for you?” When the moment arises invite your spouse to discuss and speak openly about the trauma without pushing them. If that discussion doesn’t happen right away trust that it will when you and your spouse is ready.
Find positive things to share: This may be a bit difficult when you are not feeling very happy. However don’t make every conversation with your spouse about the trauma. Take time to slow down your mind and find something positive and happier to discuss. During your healing process find ways to praise the Lord. Go back and forth with your spouse and take turns, even if it feels shallow, and speak out gratitude like “Thank you Jesus for the trees, thank you Jesus for my car, or thank you Jesus for clothes to wear.” It is in these positive moments that your brain will find rest in replaying the trauma.
Don’t make assumptions: Instead of assuming your spouse is feeling a certain way communicate how you are feeling and what you’d like from them. For example, sexual intimacy is a way to connect with your spouse but depending on the trauma it may cause them to fear that it will worsen the symptoms. Therefore communication is key so that you both know how to best connect with one another. It may feel like an awkward conversation but it is one that must be acknowledged because the last thing the marriage needs are for one of you to feel rejected. Even if physical intimacy is not an option right now, it is important to discuss each person’s desires so that you both know where one another stands.
Offer grace: Emotions may be taking you and your spouse on a crazy roller-coaster ride as you work through your trauma, which may leave you feeling vulnerable, irritable, and/or distant. So offer each other grace and don’t take things so personally. If one of you is having a bad day and being snappy or is coming across as distant try to extend love, grace and patience to one another, because the way your spouse is acting is not necessarily a reflection of how they feel about you. Trauma alters the way you may respond to everyday tasks making normal routine difficult, so be kind to yourself and each other.
Be willing to ask for help: Every couple faces difficult times but when you add trauma to the mix it can become overwhelming. Don’t feel like you have to heal or process through alone or that it all needs to remain only between the two of you. It’s important to lean into a support system, especially when you both feel too weak to carry one another. Your support system may include trusted family members, close friends, or your church family like a small group. Having people around outside of your spouse can be beneficial to your healing process as they may be able to support you in ways you and your spouse can’t. Knowing people are in your corner is always encouraging. However be sensitive to each other’s needs to seek professional counseling, if taking this avenue would best help your recovery.
The last journey you must take to help one another overcome trauma and probably one of the more important ones is forgiveness. Depending on the trauma you may need to forgive someone who hurt you, a person you may blame, or you may need to forgive yourself. Forgiveness is a process all in itself but one that is worth it, and one that will ultimately bring peace to your heart and soul. With the help of Jesus is it important to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph. 4:31-32). As you and your spouse work to forgive all the grievances you’ve endured pray for each other. When you struggle to pray for yourself, pray for your spouse. Stand in the gap for each other.
Trauma in general takes a mighty toll on your body, mind, and emotions making it that much harder to fully recover. It requires time, patience, grace, and good communication. Shared trauma is all this alongside someone but that someone has a front row seat to all you are walking through, so hold each other close. Romans 8:28 says this, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” You see, this scripture isn’t saying what happened to you is good, it’s offering hope that in some way and some how, even if you can’t see it now, good can come out of it.
Trauma and grief are hard pills to swallow but when you trust in God it becomes His strength that we lean into. Hear these words from God “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 4:10). Through every tear, every emotional outbreak, and even every frustration you may have towards God, and the situation you’ve endured, He’s right there with you, holding you and keeping you.