How To Really Say, I Love You: Listen

Over the past 15 years I’ve worked with couples at various stages in their marriages, from engaged couples preparing for marriage to married couples disengaging from marriage. And all kinds of couples in between. I would say beyond a doubt, one of the main ingredients of a good marriage is “how couples listen to each other.”

Most couples tell me that their courting days were the best days of their lives. I think a main reason for that is because during their courtship they spent a lot of time listening to each other, and what they said to each other during those courting days was treated as important. Courtship is a time when couples do a lot of listening to each other- really listening – and as a result feel especially loved by each other.

But after the knot gets tied we all know what happens from there – kids, jobs, mortgages, financial pressures, family commitments, and social engagements begin to fill our days. And sometimes we just don’t listen to each other as much as we used to. And yet, being listened to is perhaps one of the single most important ingredients of a healthy, happy marriage. So the question is, how can we be good listeners?

Here are ten tips to improve your listening:

  1. Stop Talking and Listen. It’s difficult to listen and speak at the same time. God gave us two ears and only one tongue, which is a divine hint that we should listen twice as much as we talk.
  2. Give your spouse full attention and Listen. Good listening means being willing to put whatever you are doing down. If you are surfing the internet or reading, Stop. Put down the remote. Close the door. Turn of the monitor.  Minimize distractions and let your partner know you’re willing to listen.
  3. Quiet the conversation in your head and Listen. Including your opinions about what your spouse is saying and what you will say when he or she finishes. When you can master letting people say whatever they have to say and really just hearing them, they will truly feel listened to.
  4. Clarify what your spouse wants from you and Listen. Does your spouse want you to just listen and care, or is he/she wanting solutions and advice?  Clarify by asking, “Regarding this, specifically what do you want from me?  Do you want me to just listen, or to give my opinion, advice, or what?”
  5. Avoid interrupting and Listen before she or he is done talking. Let him or her finish.  If your spouse has been talking a long time and you want to say something, politely indicate your desire to speak with a raised finger and ask, “Can I say something about that?”
  6. Listen empathically and show you care and Listen. Especially if they are telling you something personal or painful. Empathy is mentally entering into the feeling of another person. Empathic listening is focusing on what a person is saying and periodically summarizing your sense of what they are thinking, feeling and needing at the moment. It’s putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes, to see the situation from their point of view. It’s asking yourself what it must be and feel like to experience what he or she is experiencing. It creates connection.
  7. Engage with your mate and Listen. Comfortably position yourself so you can engage by facing your spouse and making eye contact. Occasionally acknowledge in a few words what was said. Encourage your partner with an understanding nod or say “I see” or “That makes sense.” An occasional nod can show you understand and are still with them. Asking open-ended questions such as ‘How did that make you feel?’ can show your concern.
  8. Avoid turning the focus of the conversation onto yourself and Listen. Don’t jump right in telling about your own similar experience. For example, if your spouse is trying to confide a personal problem, avoid saying ‘That’s just like the time I …’ and digressing into unhelpful stories about yourself or your own problems.
  9. Make your mate a priority by listening without being distracted. Don’t check the time or look away. If a child or someone else comes over to talk to you, tell them to wait. Don’t let a phone call keep you from making your mate a priority.
  10. Stop Talking and Listen! This is both the first and the last point, because all other tools depend on this action.


Listening- really listening wholeheartedly, is one of the greatest gifts we can ever give our spouse. I think all of us would agree, listening is the best, or at least one of the best ways of saying “I love you.”

 “…be quick to listen, slow to speak…”  James 1:19