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Monday, 2 June 2014

When your spouse speaks, do you just hear noise?

Rosh Hashanah 27

Peter and Shprintza had come by for some marriage advice. 
“He never listens to me,” she said.
“She never listens to me,” he seemed to say at exactly the same moment. 
I tried to say something but each one was getting louder and louder as they tried to speak over the other one.

King David writes in Psalms, “With trumpets and the sound of a shofar, you shall blow before G-d, the King.”  From here we learn that in the Temple, trumpets accompanied the sound of the shofar.

The Gemara asks, “Can two sounds be heard [at the same time]?”  If we are required to hear the sound of the shofar to fulfil our Rosh Hashanah obligation, doesn’t the extra sound of the trumpets impede our ability to hear the shofar clearly?

Our Sages teach that just like no two people have the same face, similarly no two people have the same opinions.   All relationships are about bringing in the ideas of other people into your own mind-space.   The ultimate relationship and thought-sharing takes place of course in marriage.

But as the Talmud points out, generally you can’t comprehend two sounds at the same time.  If you desire a meaningful relationship with your spouse or anyone for that matter, you must be prepared to listen.  Once they have spoken their mind, then you can have your turn.

People will sometimes hear the words that their spouse is saying but not bother to process it.  The problem is that they’ve ‘listened’ while their own voice inside their head is still screaming.   You can’t do that.  Two voices can’t be heard at once.  You need to let go of your own voice and listen to your spouse.

A classic debating trick that I teach many young couples is to listen to their spouse and then say, “So what you’re saying is . . .”  Invariably, the spouse will say, “No, that’s not what I said.  I meant . . .”  And I’ll encourage them to try again to repeat what their spouse said.  Once you can repeat the message and confirm that you understood, then your spouse knows you’re actually listening. 

The same is true of all relationships and dialogue.  Stop and listen.  Pay attention to what the other person is saying.  Take it in.  Try and repeat in your own words what they’re saying.  Then you can respond with your perspective. 

Two sounds can’t be processed at the same time.  Unless you can clear your mind and listen, you’ll never be able to appreciate what anyone else has to offer.

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