Listening Well

December 11 2023 | by

Dear Mr. Pfister, my husband and I struggle to communicate. It’s not that we don’t talk, in fact we talk all of the time, but we don’t seem to talk very effectively because nothing gets resolved and nothing changes in our relationship. We talk about the same problems over and over again, which inevitably leads to us arguing about them. Why can’t we seem to communicate in a way that leads to change or compromise? Why is it that I hear my spouse’s words, but struggle to take them to heart or do anything about them?


Saint John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, reminds us that we cannot fully find ourselves except through making a gift of ourselves to another. It is in this sincere gift that we are most fully human and most fully alive. In marriage, this giving and gift of ourselves is not limited to procreation and the rearing of children. While these are beautiful gifts in their own right, there is a still further gift that we are called to give: the entirety of ourselves. We’re not to hold back one part of ourselves as we give another part. In giving ourselves to another person wholly and entirely, we are able to truly find ourselves.

Giving ourselves wholly to another includes how we give of ourselves in the daily struggles and toils of life. We can do this in a multitude of ways, such as comforting our spouse with a hug after they’ve had a long day, making dinner or taking out the garbage without complaint, and doing little things to make their life easier. These are just some of the ways in which we give the gift of ourself to our spouse in our marital union.

Ironically, these little acts and ways of making a gift of ourselves to our spouse are also commonly among the first things that fall to the wayside in a marriage. We get caught up in the fast pace of modern life and begin to neglect these little things slowly over time. Truly listening to our spouse, understanding their words or position on a given topic of conversation, and being able to empathize with them about it like we did earlier in the marriage becomes a lost art. Recovering this lost art of listening well is one way in which we can live out the message Saint John Paul II shares with us.

Listening well means that we don’t just hear the words our spouses are saying, but that we dig deeper as to why they are saying them and what they ultimately mean to them. Our focus needs to shift from formulating our response to asking questions that deepen our understanding of their position and what they are trying to communicate to us. It also means that we set aside what we desire to get from the conversation, and instead ask ourselves self-reflective questions, such as, “How can I more fully give of myself as a gift to my spouse in this conversation? How can my spouse and I more fully glorify God through our conversation?”

When we begin asking questions such as these and changing the overall way in which we approach our conversations with our spouse, we’ll also begin noticing that we’re starting to hear them again. We don’t just know their argument; we know why they feel the way that they feel and how we can be a source of support for them. Solutions start to present themselves, and our motivation to be a gift to our spouse allows us to move towards healing and lasting change.


Updated on December 12 2023