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Laura Hunt

Relationship Guide
April 2004:
"Just Listening" Tames Wedding Stress
by Claire Hatch
Claire Hatch, MSW is a licensed social worker and mediator who specializes in working with couples. She counsels people by phone around the world and in person in her Seattle area office.

Claire will be happy to answer your relationship questions in this column. Please send them to or call her at 425.823.2273.
Want more relationship help? Then The Bridal Sanity Workbook is for you. Claire shares wisdom from her pre-wedding counseling experience and her work with troubled marriages.

"I feel pulled in so many directions," said Kerri, an August bride. "Tim and I hardly have time for one another, and when we do, we’re so on edge we don’t enjoy it."

When wedding planning takes off, together time can get left behind. The faster you move and the less you connect, the more stressed you will be. There’s nothing you both need more right now than to sit down and just listen to each other.

But for a lot of brides, this can be remarkably hard to accomplish. You’re in a ‘take-charge’ mode, not a ‘smell the roses’ mode. Everything else seems so pressing. It’s hard for something as vague as listening to each other to compete with all the tasks you have to cross off your list.

So here’s your "Listening To-Do List." And it needs to get done ASAP! Before your stress goes off the charts or your fiancé starts to feel like a stranger. (It happens more than you think.) Here’s how you can recharge and reconnect when you feel out of touch with each other or just frazzled from wedding madness.

1. Listen 'all by itself.' This is hard, when we’ve elevated multi-tasking to a virtue. When was the last time you sat down in the evening and just did one thing? Say, watched a movie without folding laundry, making a list, or picking up the living room? You’d probably as if you were wasting time.

One day when I came home from work, my 8-year-old step-daughter was all a-buzz about a school performance she was going to be in.

"I can tell you on the couch," she said.

You can what? Oh, I get it. She was really saying, "I don’t want to tell you while you’re unpacking your briefcase or changing your clothes, or peaking hopefully in the fridge to see if there’s something for dinner. I want to have a time and a space completely devoted to what I’m going to say."

It’s not just kids that want 100% attention. Grown-ups want it, too. We just forget it sometimes. We also forget that multi-tasking feels very different to the listener than it does to the speaker. If I give my husband, oh, say 80% of my attention, with all I’ve got to think about, I feel as if I’m doing darned well. But if he’s trying to tell me something that’s important to him, 80% feels as if I’m not really listening at all.

2. Listen 3 times more than you talk. If you do, at some point, you'll probably see your fiancé draw a deep breath and relax. That tells you he’s feeling connected.

3. Listen between the lines. What’s really important to your fiancé? A lot of times we talk around a topic before we zero in on the main point. Hint: This happens a lot with men during wedding planning. They don’t want to rock the boat, or they think that their views are not welcome. Listening between the lines can bring out small issues before they become big issues.

4. Listen when they aren’t talking. Normally, a conversation goes like this. I'm listening. When the other person finishes a sentence and pauses, I figure he's done. And that means it's my turn. (Finally!) But see what happens if you just wait, even when your fiancé pauses. Often that's the moment when he will tell you something crucial.

At the beginning, he'll talk about things that are less important. He's testing the waters. Then, if he senses that you're really listening, he'll tell you the heart of the matter. He may not even realize what the heart of the matter IS until just that moment. This is especially true if he's upset. Have you ever noticed that when you're upset you don't always know why? Neither does your fiancé. Listening even when he pauses gives him the support he needs to discover it.

5. Summarize his main point. Once you think you’ve got it, check it out and make sure. This will make him feel even more understood and connected to you. Then, if there's a problem to be solved, you'll know that you're solving the right problem! If there’s just a the beginning of a problem, chances are you’ll nip it right in the bud.

You may be thinking, "But what about me? When does he listen to me?" Well, people mirror each other. It’s very likely that when your fiancé feels what it’s like to have 100% of your attention, he’ll reciprocate. If not, gently say something like, "I have some things I’d like to talk about, too. Can you just listen to me for awhile?"

Make "Just Listening" your top priority and watch your stress melt away. Your other to-do list will seem more manageable and you’ll be having fun again.

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