To Love is To Listen

Candy Crush vs. The Midwife: Are our cell phones ruining our ability to listen?

To Love Is To Listen - a #staymarried blog for couplesTony recently took the morning off of work to come with me to a check up with our midwives. This is our third time being pregnant, so it’s quite a luxury to go to an appointment like this without our girls in tow. It was a fun morning getting to see our sweet baby on the ultrasound, to learn that we’re having another girl, to find out all of the amazing stats about her growth. One of the things that we like about our midwives’ office is that we hardly ever have to wait for anything. It’s so wonderful and new to us that we still expect to wait a long time and we are sometimes caught off guard when they see us right away.

Prepared to wait in the exam room, we both pulled out our phones to play Candy Crush. I mean, that’s what you would do, right? When our midwife came in to see us, I put my phone away and got onto the exam table, ready to hear the baby’s heartbeat. She realized she didn’t have the heartbeat monitor in the room and stepped out for about 30 seconds to grab one. When she came back in, Tony was still playing his game. We listened to the heartbeat, I got teary-eyed, she gave us some advice and answered a few of my questions about pregnancy. We both looked over at Tony and there he was nodding, eyes still locked on his phone. Our midwife looked back at me with such pity on her face. I’m sure she was thinking, “You poor girl. He doesn’t really want to be here, does he?”

When she walked out, I started laughing and said to Tony, “Honey, you were staring at your phone the entire time she was talking to us!”

“No!” he said, “I was totally listening! I just had this one level to finish. I thought I could wrap it up, but I swear I was listening. Crap, she probably thinks I’m a jerk!”

“Yep, she probably does.”

It was easy for me to laugh because I know Tony very well, and I know he was listening with his ears and taking in the information. I also know that he is usually really courteous when people are talking to him. But, my knowledge of his character did not help his impression on the midwife at this appointment. Why is that? Because when people are really listening, there are certain behaviors and postures that help us have confidence that they are engaged. Tony felt like he was listening because he could hear her. She likely did not believe it because he was not looking at her and didn’t respond verbally to anything she said. He was a little regretful, but neither of us were devastated. We just chalked it up to a funny little learning experience. But, when this kind of thing happens in our most important relationship, in our marriage, it can be incredibly hurtful.

The convenience of technology, the advantages of being connected at all times through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, and even email (for those who still use it), actually seems to be making it harder to engage with each other instead of easier. Our attention spans are getting shorter because of this rapid fire type of sending out and receiving mass amounts of information. I don’t even read all of the tweets in my feed. I scan them, because apparently I cannot waste my time on the mere 140 characters or less that the author put forth. I hate to admit that it takes a lot of self-control for me to put my phone down, and not just in my pocket, but on the counter in the kitchen, when we sit to have dinner together as a family. Tony doesn’t seem as attached to all of this communication as I am, which just makes it easier for me to see that he doesn’t appreciate me constantly checking my phone.

But, we see this all the time, don’t we? There seems to be this need to constantly post what we are thinking, where we are eating, that gorgeous sunset we are looking at, so that everyone can partake in the grand adventure that exists inside our minds. Everyone, that is, except the people sitting right in front of us. This is where I am most guilty.

To Love Is To Listen - a #staymarried blog for couplesNow and then, Tony and I will take the girls to a park and all of us will be having a blast. My girls are adorable, so obviously they’ll do something cute and I’ll want to capture it with the camera on my phone. Well, it was way too wonderful for me to keep it to myself, so now I need to post that once in a lifetime picture to Instagram, which of course is connected to both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. But, heaven forbid I simply post without cropping and editing and adding a filter to the picture so that it truly highlights the moment. Before I know it, I’ve been staring at my phone for five full minutes just so I can post something that took two seconds to occur. Now my husband and my kids feel fully ignored instead of honored that I wanted to brag on social media about how wonderful they all are. I was living in the moment and present with my family for a little while, and now I am somewhere else entirely. I can’t hear their laughter, I’m not listening to the 10 new words Nora just learned, and I have to ask Tony to repeat himself because I was completely engaged with my phone even though he is standing right next to me.

According to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, I’m not the only one hooked to my phone.

To Love Is To Listen - Tweet from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on #staymarried blog

YIKES! I don’t know if that’s true, but there is a definite problem if a game of Candy Crush has become more entertaining than sex with our partner. Are we losing the thrill of personal moments because we fear we might be missing out on something happening right this minute in our cyber community? We are becoming people who are physically present, but mentally elsewhere and we’re missing out on listening to and learning from the people that are in arm’s reach.

To Love is To Listen

The first duty of love is to listen - #staymarried blog for couplesDavid Augsberger said that “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” Great conversationalists know this very well. All you have to do is ask one or two pretty good questions and then let the person in front of you talk. Look at them, ask them to share more about it, and they’ll walk away believing the two of you have really connected even if you didn’t share much about yourself. People long to be heard. We crave to know that what is inside of us is worth knowing and that someone out there wants to draw it out. I know I do.

I lean toward being an introvert and part of that, for me, means that I don’t want to talk unless I’m really sure someone is listening. For the most part, I don’t believe people are listening, and I’ve even come up with a little trick to prove it. Sometimes someone will ask me a question and I’ll begin to share a story. If I have a sense that they aren’t truly listening, I’ll stop sharing mid sentence. I might pause for a second or two, and then ask them a question or change the subject entirely. Most of the time, people won’t even notice that I didn’t finish what I was saying – they weren’t listening. You know who nearly always catches me in my trickery? My husband. He’s listening. When he doesn’t catch me, I use it as an indicator that this really isn’t a good time to talk. He’s distracted, so I might revisit the story another time.

I’m not suggesting you try my little trick for yourself. It’s sort of manipulative and passive-aggressive of me. But, it has helped me to see that it’s true, people have short attention spans and listening is hard. It requires patience and practice and most of us just aren’t skilled at it. But, could we be? Could we detach ourselves from our smart phones and laptops long enough to try? If what David Augsberger said is true, wouldn’t it be essential to showing love in our marriage if we practiced and became more present and better listeners? I think it’s worth a try. Today we’re sharing just four quick tips you can incorporate today in your marriage, or with anyone at all, to become a better listener.

4 Tips to Becoming a Better Listener

1. Put down your phone.

Go ahead, put it down. Maybe you can even decide together to leave your phones in another room during dinner or when you are out on a date. Become aware of how often you instinctively reach for it and stop yourself. I’ve even heard of people that give their phones a daily curfew so that both husband and wife put their phones away by 7pm.

2. Stop talking and take a look.

When someone does start to talk to you, whenever possible, look at them and stop talking. I’ve been guilty of being an interrupting listener. I used to think that was how conversation went – we’re both talking and listening at the same time, I’m relating with you – but that’s not true. Having someone interrupt you, even if they think they are only finishing your thought, can be frustrating. It’s also really obvious to people when you are just waiting for your turn to talk. With your mouth closed and eyes open, try to just listen.

3. Listen for understanding.

You do not have to agree with what you hear, or even believe it, to listen with the goal of understanding the person in front of you. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, ask for clarification. This can actually help them really believe they are truly being listened to.

4. Be patient and slow down your response time.

Allow a breath or two before you respond to what is being said to you. Give yourself time to really take in what the other person is saying and consider if what you are about to say acknowledges them, or merely makes your own point and doesn’t take their thoughts into consideration. When someone is sharing, they aren’t always looking for an answer or advice from you. Sometimes they are just sharing to reveal something of themselves.

We practice the things we want to become better at – public speaking, photography, cooking, coding web pages, putting on makeup. Listening is something most people believe they already are good at, so often it is not something we think we need to practice. It is much easier to identify if someone is not listening to us than it is to admit that we are not really giving our own undivided attention. This week, take responsibility to connect with your love through focused listening. Become aware of the things that distract you. Close your game of Candy Crush, leave your phone in another room. You may be surprised at what you learn about the one you love, how much more loved they will feel, and how much more they’ll want to #staymarried.


P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Why I Date My Wife, a post where Tony shares some great questions to get conversations started with your spouse. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.
Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle