What is the secret to a great marriage or a happy home? These are the questions that I am often asked as I work with families. People want an easy answer. I believe it only takes five questions to transform your home.
When you ask these families in what areas they most struggle, you usually hear fairly predictable responses. The most common response you initially probably doesn’t surprise you. “We have a communication problem” is by far the culprit of home dysfunction. But, when you did deeper you begin to see that this “communication problem” is really about more pronounced cracks in the relational foundation of the home.
Sometimes you can see that financial pressures are placing enormous strain on the family.
In other homes, you discern how busy schedules and lack of quality time together is creating emotional distance.
Still other homes are stymied by a self-centeredness that makes intimacy feel disingenuous or maybe even unattainable.
Of course, many homes are battered by more than one of these pressures at the same time—often resulting in the communication failures between spouses, dating couples, parent-child interaction, and other important relationships.
So, what is the secret to overcoming these communication challenges and positively transforming the atmosphere in your home?
It can be summed up in a single phrase—“Listen More”.
A key problem in today’s home is that everyone wants to be heard. But, too often very few want to listen. We instinctively want to get our point across. For some of us we just believe that if we can get the other person to hear the facts then they will see it our way. Others of us believe that if we can just get them to understand why this is important to us then they will get it.
Unfortunately, what ensues is what can best be visualized as two fire hoses gushing water at one other. The only thing truly happening in that exchange is that everyone is getting wet.
You may have heard the old adage “People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know”.
The number one skill for building and sustaining relationships in your home (and elsewhere) is the ability to “listen”. Yet, few people exhibit this skill, especially in the home context. Why? Because we believe that if people in our home love us then they should want to hear what we say. But, of course, that presents the problem. Each person gushes with the conviction that the other should be listening. Except, they mostly aren’t.
I like the saying that God have us two ears and one mouth to indicate that we should be listening twice as much as speaking. And, listening isn’t just a physiological process of sounds vibrating across your ear drum. No, listening, is a relational process of trying to put yourself in the shoes of the speaker (empathy).
Listening is your tool to lead your home to better, more satisfying relationships. Listening works because it shows care. My friend and speech pathologist, Marva Shand-McIntosh, has some solid listening tips on her website, ilovetolisten.com, particularly geared towards working with children. And, I find the following 10 Principles of Listening quite interesting as well.
Visually imagine those water hoses again. Homes with a listening culture are able to take turns spouting. And, by doing so, they feel less threatened and are able to reduce the force and velocity of the water coming out. Eventually, this exchange takes place in a way that is respectful and digestible by all parties.
Once you’ve made listening a priority in your home, it is important to develop a habit of asking five questions that will communicate the depth of your care to your spouse, kids, and other significant parties—regardless of the specific details.
In any given situation you may not be able to ask all of these questions. But, if you practice always asking at least one of them, you will transform the culture of your home. You’ll notice that each of these questions is open-ended (not answered by a simple “Yes” or “No”).
Question #1: How does this situation make you feel?
The key to this question is emotional expression—which is hard for many people (especially guys). When asked, it communicates to the other party that what is going on inside them is important to you. Even though you may not be able to identify with the details of their situation, your goal in asking the question is to identify with the emotion they feel. In other words, if the other person feels “lonely”, then think to yourself when you felt isolated or lonely. This will help you empathize with what the other person is feeling.
Question #2: How can I help you through this situation?
This question shows your willingness to make this person’s problem your own problem. Even if there is nothing that you can tactically do to help, it sends an important message to the other person that you are walking alongside them. Asking this question also helps overcome some gender differences. Men often want to be fixers while while often just want a caring listener. So, this helps to understand what the person really needs from you.
Question #3: How, if at all, have I disappointed you in this situation?
Disappointment is a fact of life. Sometimes, people are disappointed in us and we don’t even realize it—at least the magnitude of it. This question shows that you are open to accepting your own responsibility, if any, in the situation. The other person will respect you for this openness.
Question #4: What can we do differently next time?
This question is forward looking. It acknowledges the past while challenging the other party to consider what steps can be done now to try for a more desirable outcome.
Question #5: How can I pray for you?
This question places a priority on spiritual intercession. It says this situation is bigger than you and me. It is a God-thing. It acknowledges the biblical admonition to “touch and agree on any thing”. It communicates that you are not only in the same earthly home but that you also expect to share a heavenly home. Make sure to pray with them right there and then.
All of your situations may not warrant asking all five questions. But, carefully consider the situation and choose any or all of them that you think might help in the amount of time that you have.
Remember that your goal is to objectively listen to the response. Do not feel compelled to offer an answer or a solution. Just listen. Also, do not try to defend yourself as you listen. The speaker will eventually feel safer sharing with you if s/he believes that you can actually hear non-defensively.
Here is a highly regarded book, “The Lost Art of Listening“, that may be helpful for you too.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear other questions that you’ve used to create a listening culture in your home.