My Dear Readers,
Often, when I answer a question, the person I’m talking to replies, “I hear you.” Really? Does he really hear me? Is he listening to what I am saying?
Listening can be the greatest of all methods of learning about other ideas, dreams, cultures, and other things. However, one of our greatest failings may be that we hear rather than listen. You may think you’re listening, but in reality, it’s going in one ear and out the other.
When we hear something, it’s not necessarily reaching our inner core; there is often a hidden agenda in the conversation, and we are often just listening for a pause in the conversation so that we can advance our own objectives at the expense of others. When we fail to listen to our counterparts, we fail to understand them, and as a result, we lose the opportunity to learn from them.
In fact, when we hear others without really listening to them, we fail to achieve our greatest potential: the ability to understand who we are and what we mean to each other.
Below is such a story…..
Dear Dr. Kane,
I could sure use your help. I recently proposed to my girlfriend and she said yes. We plan to be married in early January 2016. We are both African-Americans and in the mid stage of life, with myself recently retiring from the US Marine Corps one year ago. We both feel that we have found true love, as this is the third time for both of us tying the knot. We intend for this to be the last time.
She feels that I am the right one for her and I feel the same way. She is perfect for me. However, there is one issue that keeps popping up: the difference in our religious beliefs. I am a Christian and strongly tied to my faith. My fiancée is Catholic.
I attend church services every Sunday and bible studies during the week. I am also an elder in my church. I believe in the family unit attending church services together. Since I am not married, I have been attending church services alone, but once we are married, I want my spouse to attend church services with me just like the other families.
Therein lies the problem. My fiancée is opposed to attending my church. She says that since her early childhood, she was raised Catholic, having attended mass regularly in Catholic primary and secondary schools. She says that her Catholic faith feels natural to her and figures prominently in her family lineage. She has no desire to convert to my denomination or to attend my church.
I am not asking her to convert. I am even willing to compromise by switching weekly attendance with both faiths. However, during the six months we have been together, I have never seen her attend mass or any other Catholic services.
She knows nothing about the Bible. If she attended my church, I know that she could learn the Bible and I could help her change. I am frustrated. She is adamant and refuses to compromise. She has dug in her heels when all I am asking is that she be open to learning about my faith.
In order to move forward with our relationship, we agreed that we would practice our faiths separately and she would not have to attend my church services. One Sunday service when I attended alone, I sat there observing the other couples. I suddenly realized that I was not comfortable with the agreement and later that day, I told her I changed my mind.
I want to be honest with myself as well as to her. I want to practice my faith and in doing so, I want my spouse sitting next to me, supporting me in church. I know that if I did otherwise, I would not be true to my faith or myself. I saw red flags in my prior two marriages, and I ignored them, thinking that I could still make those marriages work. I am beginning to see red flags now, and I don’t want to make those same mistakes again.
She is not open to meeting with my pastor to receive either the Word or Christian-based counseling. I hear what she wants, but she’s is not listening to what I want. Do you think I should call off the wedding? I’m thinking that getting married now is not a good thing to do. I’m open to your ideas. Thanks.
Devout Christian, Tacoma, WA
My Dear Man,
I appreciate the opportunity to respond your concerns. It has been my practice to not comment on faith-based issues, as I believe that it is the right of all to practice the faith of their choice in the manner in which they see fit. However, it appears that there is more to this story, and I suspect that what is being left out is being concealed beneath the concept of “spiritual faith.”
Language and its use can mean different things to different people. For example, the word “hear” could mean that in hearing, one perceives a noise or sound by someone or something. In contrast, to “listen,” one gives attention to a sound takes notice of what is being said, and acts on what they heard.
In your writing you stated,
“I hear what she wants, but she is not listening to what I want.”
In doing so, the words hear and listening appear to be used interchangeably, but both words may have different meanings to both of you.
I have developed a therapeutic model for reinforcing the art of listening in a marital relationship. Utilizing this model, let’s explore the depth of your ability to “listen” to your fiancée’s concerns about maintaining her religious faith while you seek to maintain yours as well.
The model, “Listening: The I FACTOR,” is composed of the following segments: information, involvement, integration, implementation and finally, impact.
- Information- facts provided or learned about something or someone. This refers to the items conveyed or represented by your counterpart.
- Involvement– the processing of such information in a format that is understood by the individual receiving the information.
- Integration-the acceptance and internalization of the information within the listener’s core being.
- Implementation-the process of transforming the information into a decision or action plan. It is the movement of the information into the external environment.
- Impact- the information’s ability to affect or influence a person, thing, or impose action on another.
In applying the model to what was said to you by your fiancée said to you:
Information (what was told to you)
- She was raised as since childhood in the Catholic faith. She attended mass regularly in primary and secondary Catholic schools. The Catholic faith is nature to her and in her family lineage. She has no desire to convert or attend your church.
Involvement (what was processed by you)
- Although she claims to be Catholic, during the six months we have been together, I have never seen her attend mass or any other Catholic services. Therefore, she is not a true believer in the Catholic faith. Besides, she doesn’t even know the Bible.
Integration (what was accepted and internalized into your core being)
- I am not asking her to convert. Besides if she attends my church she could learn the Bible and I could help change her mind. I will present a compromise to her suggesting that we alternate weekly attendance with both faiths.
Implementation (transforming the information into an action plan)
- In order to move forward, I committed to an agreement that she and I would practice our faiths separately and she would not have to attend my church services. Later, I changed my mind because I felt uncomfortable with the agreement.
Impact (the effect or influence upon the other person.)
- I am frustrated. She is adamant and refuses to compromise. I ignored the red flags in my previous marriages and I don’t want to make the same mistakes again.
Lesson Learned (or Not)
Earlier you wrote, “I hear what she wants, but she is not listening to what I want.”
In reality, however, you were not listening to what she wanted. Instead, you heard what you wanted to hear, and then went on to execute a plan based on your desire to fulfill your needs, despite knowing her beliefs about her faith.
You assumed that since she did not attend her faith’s services as regularly as you attend yours, she was not a true believer in her faith. As a result, while your plan looked like it was a compromise, it was really a strategy to obtain what you wanted regardless of your fiancée’s feelings. In the end, when it became clear that you would get the results you desired, you sought to blame your fiancée for her failure to go along or more specifically, to fall into the trap you designed.
Concluding Words-Dr. Kane
All of the above could have been avoided if you had simply listened to what she had to say instead of hearing what you wanted to hear. The plan failed because you wanted to advance your own desires at the expense of your fiancée’s desires.
It is clear that having your spouse accompany you to church services is an essential factor for you in this relationship. However, it seems that seeing the other couples attending church services together is the basis for that desire, meaning that being viewed in a positive light by other church members is actually more important to you than a desire to be true to yourself. And, as a result, you chose to break the agreement to respect the right of your fiancée to worship within her own faith and beliefs.
What is really concerning to me is that you would consider calling off the wedding because of this. It indicates a true lack of certainty about your commitment to the martial relationship. I would recommend premarital counseling by a non-pastoral or non-Christian-focused counselor. The reason I suggest this is so that you explore your readiness to maintain the commitments of a marriage outside of those issues associated with your spiritual beliefs. If you are unable to maintain important agreements before walking down the aisle, how can she expect you to maintain such agreements after the wedding?
By breaking your agreement, you may have inadvertently provided her with a “gift,” that is, the gift of knowing that you may not keep your agreements when they no longer serve your desires. She may, as is customary when someone receives a gift, simply say “thank you,” and walk away.
“When a person exposes the true self to you, embrace the action and treat it as a gift.”
–Ten Flashes of Light For the Journey of Life
Dr. Micheal Kane …The Visible Man