“Are you a good listener?” is a question like, “Are you a good student?” The answer is usually, “It depends?” In school it often depends on the subject. With listening it depends on the type of listening required. Some careers allow us to specialize in one or two forms of listening and excel with those skills. Marriage, however, is a relationship that requires the willingness to engage in all types of listening for the relationship to flourish.

We will examine five types of listening. A central question that frames each type of listening is provided before the explanation. Comprehending is foundational for all effective listening. Appreciating and empathizing are forms of listening primarily for the purpose of bonding. Discerning and Evaluating are forms of listening primarily utilized during problem solving.

  1. ComprehendWhat is being said? This is the do-not-pass-go question of listening. But it is amazing how frequently we overlook the necessity of comprehending. Taking time to ensure that we understand what has been said is the essence of being “quick to hear” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19). There are many reflective listening and restatement skills to help with comprehension, but they basically boil down to two questions: (1) Do you see the value of understanding before speaking? (2) Are you willing to spend some of your “air time” speaking verifying that you understand?
  2. AppreciateWhat is good about the speaker or message? This is what fuels the patience of listening. To listen to someone is to affirm the value you place on the relationship. One of the ways that we train our thoughts – and the thoughts of others – to focus upon those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise is by how we listen. If we listen with the filter “what is wrong or in need of correction” we will struggle to have a Philippians 4:8 thought life. As we listen we should search for things to affirm. Appreciative listening should be verbalized in the form of affirmation or gratitude which encourage the person or apply their message.
  3. EmpathizeWhat is the emotion in the speaker or message? This is the most bonding aspect of listening. It displays a willingness to enter your spouse’s world. Notice how Paul relationally engaged with people, “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves because you had become so dear to us (1 Thes. 2:8).” This captures empathetic listening. Elsewhere Paul says we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).” Listening to the joys and sorrows of our spouse should not leave us unmoved. If the experience of being in “one body” (the church) should illicit this response between fellow Christians, then empathetic listening should be even more present in the “one flesh” relationship between husband and wife.
  4.  DiscernWhat is accurate or most important in what is being said? This form of listening emotionally steps away from the speaker and message in order to gain a more objective perspective. This detachment assumes that the message is either biased or poorly filtered for the most relevant information. The cautiousness also assumes that what is important to the speaker may not be what is most important to the listener. For these reasons, in marriage, discerning listening should most often be preceded by appreciative or empathizing listening – that is what it means to “give the benefit of the doubt.” Without the bonding forms of listening, discerning listening creates or perpetuates distance. Consistently resorting to discerning listening is an indication that the marriage lacks a strong foundation of shared values, purpose, or trust.
  5. EvaluateWhat is the appropriate response to the speaker or message? This type of listening is focused upon action more than understanding. This kind of listening often gets a bad rap because of husbands who are prone to exclusively use this “fix it” mentality when listening. Evaluating is the appropriate final stage of listening in many (not all) conversations. Premature evaluating is a form of pride (believing I know all I need to know) that devalues the relationship. The absence of considering the appropriate response is a form of passivity (either laziness or disregard) that devalues the relationship. The marker that evaluating is the appropriate style of listening in most conversation is usually a pause, a change from sharing to asking, or articulating a decision that needs to be made. If these communicative markers are not clear in your marriage, it would be wise to discuss how the two of you reveal that conversations are ready to move from understanding to evaluating.

This material is an excerpt from the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication” seminar.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Communication” post which address other facets of this subject.