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Are you a responder or a talker? You might say, “Talking is responding.” Yes, but not all talking is responding to another. If your wife asks, “Honey, what type of motor oil do I need to pick up for the car today?” You could respond, “Five quarts of 10-40W.” Or you could say, “Let’s see, winter is coming and this is the Subaru and I think it probably won’t be changed again until late winter and the engine is getting old. I sure wish we could replace that old car but we don’t have enough money right now. I know you’re thinking of going back to work, but I’d rather you stay home, but if you did work part time it would give us more flexibility in our spending…”

That’s talking. Responders tune in to the other person. They are responsive to what the other person is asking. They don’t rattle off on their own thoughts and comments. They listen with care. How often has your spouse said, “You don’t listen to me”? (Wives more often say this to their husbands.) You might immediately defend yourself by repeating everything she has just said in the last minute or two. But factually stating another person’s words is not responding to them.

Nonverbal Clues

Responders are sensitive to meta-communication – the deeper messages that go beyond words. They care so much about what another person is saying that they pick up nonverbal clues. Even animals understand this level of communicating. You could walk into your back yard and see two dogs growling and even baring their teeth at each other. You might think, “There is going to be a nasty dog fight! I’d better intervene.” But then you notice their tails are not down but are up and slightly wagging. That changes everything. That communicates they are going to “play-fight.”

Family members who genuinely care about others will not be caught up in their own world of thoughts all the time. When they sit down for a meal they seek to listen to others comments. If you are a talker and genuinely begin asking questions, you might initially hear family members say, “I already told you that!” Instead of getting miffed and mumbling, “So that’s the credit I get for trying to show interest” (which is self-pity), simply say, “You’re right. I’m not a good listener. But I’m making a commitment to try to tune in more.”

Marriages that are most successful have partners that don’t just “talk at” each other, but “respond to” each other. They hear at a deeper level. They respond with answers that match the specific statements or questions of their spouse. They limit their personal agendas and speeches and random thoughts and zero in on the heart of their spouse. Men especially need to learn this communication skill. And when they do, they will find their mate will truly feel heard.

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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