Listening to Understand




“The biggest problem with communication is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Unknown

A couple of blog posts ago, I shared inside one of our arguments titled, I’m Posting on Friday Because … This week I’m sharing more about communication between John and me. I wouldn’t put much of this in writing if I thought we were just one couple in a few. We’re not. I’ve talked to enough friends to know there are a lot of us out there who have difficulty talking with our spouses.

John and I grew up in families who didn’t communicate except to yell and throw things or be quiet and fume. Families like ours also didn’t talk about feelings unless we were having a scene. Even though John and I were teetotalers raising our kids, we lived by at least two of three rules in alcoholic families:

1) Don’t talk
2) Don’t feel
3) Don’t trust.

Living by these rules didn’t mean we didn’t talk and feel. It meant we talked about others instead of ourselves. It meant we didn’t get in touch with our real feelings. We’d sulk when we wanted attention, we’d get quiet when we had a lot to say, and we would fly off the handle when we were scared. We’d eat a row of Oreos to numb out or practice some other destructive habit instead of dealing with our emotions.

John’s family yelled, so he wanted our home to be quiet. My family fumed, so I wanted us to talk. John thought being quiet would fix everything or at least it’d keep him from having to hear what he did wrong. I thought talking would heal us even though I had no idea what I was feeling or how to talk about it, so I talked about him and what I thought he should fix.

John got quieter. I got louder.

He wasn’t talking at all by the time I was yelling and it was mostly about why he wasn’t talking. He was quiet in hopes that I would be too. I talked because I didn’t know what else to do. We lived this way for a lot of years, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds because we had kids and parents to distract us from each other and our issues.

A conversation with our son served as one wakeup call about our lack of communication. He said, “Why would I want children of my own when it’s been so hard on you?”

I thought, Oh my gosh, you and your sister have been the JOY in my life, not the hard part.

I said something like that to him while trying to settle down from our exchange. John and I were three decades into our mess and at least one of our kids thought he was the problem, just like I thought with my parents. And it wasn’t true of him or of me.

My family of origin talked a lot less than John and I talked, although he and I were 30 years into the same conversation – one that we had over and over and to no avail.

“I don’t want to talk anymore about what’s wrong. I just want us to learn how to get along and have fun,” John said four million times.

“I wish you’d listen and hear what I’m really saying. That’d probably help with all the ‘getting along’ you keep talking about,” I said for the four million and oneth time.

daisies smaller


John’s wanted to skip through fields of daisies instead of dredge up anything unpleasant. I’ve wanted to dig to the bottom of our pain because we’re both in it. Communication’s the answer, but we didn’t know how to do it. We didn’t have examples to follow, so we’ve fought our way to it. 



I’ve been scared and scary and I’ve screamed a lot. I’ve been depressed and quiet. I’ve faced demons of living in silence as a kid, then trying to do it again as an adult even though I’ve known I needed to talk. I’ve talked in the wrong ways and about someone else because it’s scary to talk about myself and what’s going on with me, but I’ve learned to talk anyway and, yes, about myself and what’s going on with me.

John’s faced demons of living with a mom in a lot of pain and now a wife who is also, and both of us very noisy about it. We told him what’s wrong with us and what’s wrong with him and what’s wrong with everyone around us. He’s hidden out from all of it, but if he’s going daisy skipping, he has figured out he has to show up sometimes to listen and to talk.

Fast forward to this week and keep in mind change takes time. I’ve been sick for weeks, which I believe is the result of not being heard for years. Our unattended emotions wreak havoc on our health. Writing on my blog about our lack of communication, talking honestly and free of judgment with a friend, and recognizing what it’s cost us and our family when we haven’t felt worthy of being heard have made me sick and tired and ready for change.

This week, John and I talked twice about our pain. Neither time did it have much to do with each other. We talked about things we think about and what we’re afraid of and how confused we get when we don’t talk and listen to each other. I cried a couple of hours, and then felt really relaxed – a first after one of our discussions. John went to bed exhausted (not a first), but knowing he listened the right way … to understand, not to reply.

We made headway in #GettingYourOwnLife #whileLovingthePeopleinIt.

In This Together,

An early blog post brought to you by Claire’s upcoming visit. Thanks for the images,

Next week, I’ll blog about George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”



14 responses »

  1. Kim, this is so good and so universal, I hardly know where to begin my comments. I have definitely been there with you, or I should say Rich and I have been there with you and John. In our case, both of us have been silent fumers for most of our marriage, hoping that the lack of yelling would equal communication. We spent 2 years in marital therapy finally being made to really listen to what the other person was saying. The worst part is that I have taught communication skills in the business world and at a college and it still didn’t help. I have learned to voice my concerns and feelings, and he is still struggling with that part. The illness thing really hit home too as I think about what he went through as a child and all the illnesses that have descended on both him and his sister. He finally talked about some of the stuff just in the past year, but I’m guessing I’ll never know the whole story, as everyone in his family believes that silence is golden. Please keep writing. You have no idea how many people need to read this blog!

    • Mary, it helps so much to have you reading and commenting on my blog posts. That way, I know at least one person can relate and thinks this stuff makes some sense. 🙂

      I’ve read and studied and done a lot of personal work around emotional issues that affect our health. It’s scary in one way because how do we undo the emotional damage. It’s empowering in another because it gives us some control over what’s happening to us.

      I’ve dealt with high blood pressure since I was 36. I believe 95% (or more) of it is emotional because of trying to live by “silence is golden.” Obviously, that doesn’t work for me. I’ve had to start talking and writing if I wanted to live.

      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support! ❤ Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this post Kim. You two are doing so well. I thank God for you! As one who has discovered how verbally propelled she is, I can relate to the need to “talk” things out. Heck, it’s all a process, right? Love and blessings to you and John .

    • Jenine, “verbally propelled.” Oh boy, can I relate to that phrase. It might be my new way of telling John we need to talk. LoL. It’s a process, alright.

      I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have you in my life. ❤ John is too, by the way. 😀 I think we're all doing great. Praying for y'all and for us, that we keep learning together how to do this life and love thing.

      Love you lots!

  3. From Facebook (on Mary Wilson’s page) ~

    Kim’s writing about relationships is so honest and on target that we can all relate, no matter what type of family we come from. A must read! I’m glad to include Kim among my writer friends because we hold each other’s feet to the fire.

    You, Debbie Morris and 2 others

    Kim Henson Thanks so much for passing this along and saying it’s relatable, Mary McKerihan Wilson. I love having you as a fellow writer. It makes the “adventure” less scary.
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 10:48pm

  4. From Facebook (on Christy Young’s page) ~

    My talented dear friend Kim Henson has such an insightful and relatable blog. There are no perfect families or relationships, but we can work on making them the very best they can be.

    You and 2 others

    Kim Henson Thanks so much for passing this along, Christy Young. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 2:41pm

    Erika Mason This is so very true!….
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · April 7 at 12:14pm

    Kim Henson Thanks for reading and commenting, Erika Mason.
    Like · Reply · April 8 at 9:46pm

  5. From Facebook ~

    Klaudia Jurewicz, Kerry Morgan and 13 others

    Summer Turner I love this post! It shows the value of starting to heal by understanding the family of origin system and which role we’ve adopted. For me, it’s also a good reminder to be disciplined about only making “I” statements (even in my head), instead of “you” blaming ones. I also love your hint about the next blog post. smile emoticon
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 1:29pm

    Kim Henson Summer Turner, thank you! I need this reminder daily. It’s so easy to start talking about them instead of me. Starting with “i” makes me vulnerable, which, as you know, isn’t easy for some of us. wink emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 1:49pm

    Summer Turner I see “I” statements as being where our power is. It’s our truth. But I hate confrontation, so I often make those statements just in my head and then stategize ways to set the boundaries I need or whatever.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 1:59pm

    Kim Henson Summer Turner, that’s a good point. Maybe if I saw them in that light, they’d be easier to say. Not crazy about confrontation either, but I’m recognizing what it’s cost to shrink from it … a high price around here. Thanks for a new perspective.
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 2:01pm

    Summer Turner Yes, if I had to live with someone, I’d need to confront. If it was dangerous to do that, I’d need to get out. (And that is what I did in 1988.)
    Like · Reply · April 6 at 2:07pm

    Kim Henson Summer Turner, I hate to hear you were in that kind of situation, but grateful and relieved you got out of it. heart emoticon Some women don’t have the courage and it’s scary.
    Like · Reply · Just now

    Mary Lancaster Oh me! so many times I hear but am in too big of a hurry to stop and understand, Lord help me to listen to understand.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 1:42pm

    Kim Henson I’m praying a lot, Mary Lancaster – that I’ll keep speaking up and also listen to understand. I need to practice both. Thanks for sharing your prayer. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 1:51pm

    Mary McKerihan Wilson Kim, this is wonderful and a post everyone can relate to. I left a much longer comment on your blog. Thanks for writing!
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · April 6 at 3:34pm

    Kim Henson Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing it, Mary McKerihan Wilson.
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 10:49pm

    Joan Burke Choudhary So much good here, but my favorite is the last line. I look forward to the next post.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 11:56pm

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Joan Burke Choudhary. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · April 8 at 9:46pm

  6. From Facebook (Summer Turner’s page) ~

    If you’re in a relationship and come from a dysfunction family, you’ll want to read this.

    You and Jo Ann Sarti

    Kim Henson Thanks for passing this along, Summer Turner. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 1:51pm

    Mary McKerihan Wilson We all come from dysfunctional families. I love the universal themes in Kim’s writing!
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · April 6 at 3:36pm

    Kim Henson Thank you, Mary McKerihan Wilson. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 10:45pm

    Sybil Lee This looks like the secretary birds I saw on my Safari. The feathers are like pencils and she is wearing capris
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 8:25pm

    Kim Henson I love your description of the birds, Sybil Lee. They looked engaged in conversation. smile emoticon
    Like · Reply · April 6 at 10:46pm

    Sybil Lee Once again thank you Kim
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 8:31pm

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Sybil Lee. I appreciate your comment.
    Like · Reply · April 6 at 10:46pm

  7. From Facebook (Mary Lancaster’s page) ~

    Oh me so many times I hear but am in too big of a hurry to stop and understand, Lord help me to listen to understand.

    You and Hope IsMy Strength

    Kim Henson Thanks for passing this along, Mary. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · April 6 at 1:52pm

    Mary Lancaster Such A great message, needed to be shared thank you so much for sharing this with all of us here
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · April 6 at 8:33pm

    Kim Henson Awww, thanks again, Mary Lancaster.
    Like · Reply · April 6 at 10:56pm

  8. From Facebook (Jeanie Johnson’s page) ~

    A piece worth reading by my insightful friend Kim Henson.

    Jeanie Johnson, Perry Tesh and 2 others

    Perry Tesh Wow
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · April 6 at 5:15pm

    John Lucas Cool!!!!!
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · April 7 at 1:55am

    Kim Henson Thanks so much for passing this along, Jeanie Johnson. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 4 hrs

  9. From Facebook ~

    Rebecca Barnes-Hogg and Connie Briglio

    Michelle Duncan Great blog post, Kim. I just posted an image about this today. “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” I sometimes wonder if we all stay on the hamster wheel of life going so fast that by the time we get off to talk, we don’t have the energy to listen. And, I’m confident listening takes more energy than talking.
    Unlike · Reply · Message · 1 · April 6 at 1:24pm

    S. Kim Henson I posted that same meme this week, Michelle Duncan. It jumpstarted this post. Sometimes I think we stay distracted SO we don’t have to hear and notice and deal with what’s happening around us. It’s easy to think we’re too busy until it catches up with us. Thanks so much for commenting! heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · April 6 at 1:47pm

    Jenine Marie Howry lol, I love these birds. Kind of reminds me of myself in the morning before my coffee! Actually it looks more like me and Pat trying to figure each other out and our hair is now standing up, lol
    Unlike · Reply · Message · 1 · April 7 at 4:45pm

    S. Kim Henson Jenine Marie Howry, hahaha. They reminded me of John and me. So, of course, they remind you of you and Pat … clones. wink emoticon They are up close and personal and talking/listening, I’m sure. I think it said they’re gray headed cranes. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 13 hrs

    Jenine Marie Howry I can believe they are grey headed lol
    Unlike · Reply · Message · 1 · 8 hrs

    S. Kim Henson Jenine Marie Howry, hahahahaha. I laughed out loud. grin emoticon
    Like · Reply · Just now

  10. Kim,
    I am catching up on reading your posts and had to chuckle. The part about how John would rather skip through a field of daisies than deal w/something unpleasant– I can so relate to. My ex chose to live in the land of rainbows and unicorns instead of dealing with whatever reason(s) he did not want to be married anymore. It will be coming up on a year of being divorced in July. I feel better-and hope one day to bury my heartache completely. His lose. I just think most women feel things with so much more intensity than men. Thanks for making me laugh!

    • Hahahaha, Sylvia. Men want daisies and rainbows and unicorns and we want to talk and figure out what’s happening and feel about it. Those are extremes, aren’t they? What was God thinking when he put males and females together? LoL.

      I’m really tickled the post made you laugh. 😀 I think your healing is further along than you realize. Laughter is a sign of that. At least, I sure hope that’s the case because you deserve to heal and move on. ❤ Praying for you often. Love you!

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