To Be a Better Listener

The longer a couple has been married the more likely they are to take each other for granted.

Willie and Elaine Oliver
To Be a Better Listener

My wife often complains that I don’t listen to her. I am frankly getting a bit tired of her complaining. The problem as I see it is that she usually begins to speak without first noticing that I may be on my phone, watching TV, or engaged in some other activity. She believes that as long as she opens her mouth I should listen to whatever she says. She tells me quite often that she spoke with me about something the day before, and I know I didn’t speak with her about that. Please help. Sometimes I think I’m losing my mind.

Effective communication is among the most challenging skills to master in any relationship, especially in marriage. That’s because the longer a couple has been married the more likely they are to take each other for granted, unless they are intentional about doing otherwise.

What you describe will continue to take place and get progressively worse unless you and your wife recognize the danger this poses to the viability of your marriage relationship and determine to do something about it. Unless you ask God to give you the desire and capacity to do otherwise, you will continue to grow in your disappointment about what you perceive as your wife’s lack of understanding.

The quicker you realize the only person you can control is yourself, the faster you will be able to come to terms with what is happening with your wife and put a strategy in place to mitigate the further deterioration of your marriage relationship.

The apostle Paul wrote: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). This is a tall order for husbands as they relate to their wives. Here Scripture makes clear that husbands are called to be a type of Christ in their marriage. And to be like Christ means to be willing to sacrifice for the other, even if you haven’t done anything wrong. After all, Christ died for the church, which was sinful, despite the fact that He was sinless.

To be like Christ in your marriage means to do whatever you can to remedy your misunderstandings with your wife. So how can you remedy your dilemma?

According to John Gottman, a well-known marriage researcher,* a husband needs to a-tt-u-n-e to his wife, which he describes in the following acrostic:

  • Attend. Give your wife your undivided attention when she needs it.
  • Turn Toward. Physically turn toward your wife while you talk with her.
  • Understand. No matter what she says, the goal is understanding. Don’t offer a solution; don’t try to fix the problem. Ask questions about what she is feeling and what it all means to her. Show genuine interest and attempt to understand her.
  • Nondefensively listen. This is especially important if your wife is talking, or is upset about you.
  • Empathize. Understanding is an intellectual pursuit, while empathy is an emotional pursuit. Try to feel what she feels.

If you follow this counsel carefully and intentionally, we believe you will be well on your way to enjoying a much better relationship with your wife. By the way, the Bible shared similar counsel a long time ago: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV).

You and your wife are in our prayers.

Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Churchc.

Elaine Oliver, MA, LGPC, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at or

Willie and Elaine Oliver