I know you think you understand what I said, but I’m not sure if what you understood is what I really meant.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” It is remarkable that Jesus uses this exhortation several times. We find it a total of 14 times in the Gospels and the Epistles. Obviously, from God’s point of view, there is a deficit here, or at least a great risk. God speaks, yet the recipient of the message is not attuned to receive it – he actually does not listen at all. 

Could this not also be a problem in marriage and family? Some people don’t feel understood. The adolescent girl has the impression that her parents don’t understand her. The husband feels misunderstood. The wife suffers because her husband doesn’t listen to her. The little boy has fears and worries – and no one is there to listen to them. And there may be a thousand other facets. Communication is conscious action. 

Years ago, I had a colleague who constantly used the phrase: “Do you understand what I mean?” At some point I said to him: “I hear what you’re saying. But whether you express what you mean, whether I hear what you say correctly, whether I understand what your words mean to you, whether I understand what you really mean, I can’t tell you.” Talking is only one side – and possibility – of communication. The other is listening and understanding correctly. 

When we pray to God and talk to him, we can be sure that He is with us with all His attention, He hears the cry of our soul. He understands us completely, even what we cannot express in words. In this communication, the problem lies exclusively with us. Do we hear and understand what God answers us? After we have prayed, He wants to answer. But are we then fully focused on Him, or are we already running on in the restlessness of our lives?

Listening is always also appreciation. We give the other person time and attention. A good listener is very valuable and likable. We feel understood and respected. 

Why is communication in marriage often so difficult? Where do the many misunderstandings come from? I am convinced that most of it is due to the fact that a man and a woman are so very different. In addition, we often neglect the basic elements of good communication. 

Let’s put it very simply: a woman talks – a man acts. When a man says “yes”, it usually means “yes”. When a woman says “yes”, it can mean: “yes” or “maybe” or “in principle yes” or “not really” and often “no”.  The meaning of this “yes” depends on the situation, the tone of voice, the emotional state or something else. Men prefer simple, clear, direct communication, preferably without many words. Women, on the other hand, want men to listen to them – until they have said everything. Women want to talk about the problem – men want to solve it. Women tend to ask their questions very indirectly, in the expectation that men will figure out what they mean. But the man hears the question – and in his simplicity gives the answer to exactly that, and is surprised that this is completely wrong. 

How can we improve mutual understanding? The man should only answer when he has understood what his wife really wants to say to him. 

A dialog could go like this:

Wife: You work so long and are exhausted in the evening. You need more sleep. 

Husband: You think I should go to bed earlier? 

Wife: Actually, that wouldn’t be bad for either of us. Do you understand? We have so little time, so much has fallen by the wayside in the last few months, and sometimes it feels like I’m drowning here at home.

Husband: Help me, how am I supposed to understand your words? What would you like? 

Wife: We don’t have time for each other. We used to go out for dinner together, at least once a month.

Husband: You’d like us to go out for dinner together regularly? 

Wife: I know our budget is tight right now. But if we could have an ice cream or a cappuccino together, I’d be happy. 

Husband: Would you like to go out for an ice cream today? 

Wife: That would be so nice! 

For a man, listening means becoming really quiet and getting completely involved with you. What does she want to tell me? Have I understood correctly what you really want to say or ask? He must approach you with questions and genuinely want to understand. Then she will get involved and together they will explore the real reason behind the initial question. 

In the Word of God, we are encouraged to be careful listeners. James writes: “Therefore, brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath.” Even the wise Solomon knew: “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” (Proverbs 18:13 NLT). What example does Jesus give us? What was His aim in asking the disciples, in Matthew 16:13-16, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Did He not know His disciples? Did He not know the answer to the question He was asking? But it was important to Him that the disciples should reflect on their knowledge and thinking, and come to a personal confession. 

Remarkable is the word that the old Samuel said to the young Saul: “… but you stand still now, that I may make known to you what God has said” (1 Samuel 9:27). Exactly. This attitude is important for good communication: be quiet, concentrate, and listen. Not only towards your spouse, but also towards children, both young and old. 

And what can the wife improve? The old adage often helps: less is more. Just tell your husband what you really want. Don’t expect him to send you lots of colorful messages with hearts and kisses and bring you a bouquet of flowers every week. Instead, just see what he does for you. Notice what he does to make you happy, how he makes your work easier and makes things easier for you, and thank him for that. Many men work so hard to make life comfortable for their wives. Men often speak with actions and are not always understood. 

God’s blessing and help are the basis for a happy and understanding family life. Becoming silent together before the throne of God, bringing Him worship and all questions, needs, and requests is very important and helpful. God opens the door to better mutual understanding. Heartfelt love and a humble attitude help us to maintain peace and joy in everyday family life.

Hermann Vogt

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