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Part Three on Improving Your Relationship: Dale Carengie on Marriage: Show Interest

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Kindle Edition, p.52

We’ve started a recent series of blogs taking some quotable quotes from Dale Carnegie’s classic business book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and applying them in marriage (for the first blog in the series click here).  While his book was meant to help people in the marketplace, it’s good to remember that politeness works at home, too.  This is one of the things you might learn in marital therapy.  I’m going to insist that while you are in my office, that you are polite.  You can’t pay me enough to listen to you argue in my presence.  I’m going to listen to you while you talk and then, when it’s your spouse’s turn, I’m going to listen to your spouse.  I’m hoping both of you will learn by my example and start listening to each other.  You’d be amazed how far listening will get you.  My wife says my clients need to come for YEARS.  She’s teasing, of course, but I’m really trying to work myself out of a job.  Once a couple starts listening to each other, much of the conflict just disappears.

Really.

You show you are interested in your spouse by listening to her.  You show you are not interested in her by not listening.  End of story.

Actually, I’ve seen this over and over.  Not every time, mind you, but often enough to make me a believer in the power of listening.  You can’t listen if you are not interested in what the other person has to say.  If you act bored or indifferent or stare off into space or scoff or roll your eyes or fidget or look at the ceiling he’s not going to feel you are tracking with him.

So often when couples come to see me they are both wanting me to hear what they each have to say.  They are very articulate.  While they are talking I’m respectfully taking notes.  I do this both to remember what they said and as another objective voice in the session.  For example, as she’s talking I’m jotting down her concerns and numbering them with a big number that I circle…1..2..3…  Here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed.  I’ll summarize what she said: so it looks like you have 5 major concerns about the relationship and then I’ll list them off one by one.  Is that right?  Yes.

What would happen if I asked her: can you tell me what your husband’s major concerns are?  Ahhh.  Well.  Ahhh.

Look.  Some can summarize their spouses’ concerns just fine, but it’s amazing how many don’t have a clue.  For these folk, learning to listen becomes a major therapy task.  Once they figure that out, I become redundant and they don’t need my services any more.  Cool.

You’d be amazed how powerful this tool is with your kids, too.  Instead of being so quick to hammer them about whatever inequity it is that they have done, you might just sit down and ask what’s going on.  A parent listen?  Children aren’t any different than you: they’d like to be heard just like you.  What if you really listened?  What if Johnney perceived that you took an interest in him?  What if when he was done talking you were able to say, so it sounds like your major concerns are this and this?

This and this?  Could you say?  Do you have a clue?  Or are you too busy making sure everyone in the family understands you?

Dale Carnegie goes on to quote Alfred Adler:

Alfred Adler, the famous Viennese psychologist, wrote a book entiled What Life Should Mean to You.  In that book he says: “It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others.  It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.” (p. 52-53)

I’m not sure that the word “all” is correct, but certainly a ton of it.  It’s a major source of the pain I hear about in my office.  People don’t stop with just not listening.  They often put a negative spin on what the other does say: people reading each others’ minds and then imputing ill will to their motives; telling each other what the other thinks; negatively interpreting each other; interrupting each other; pointing out in no uncertain terms why the other is wrong; rolling of eyes, sarcastic comments, all of which conveys the other is a complete moron.

This probably won’t warm your husband’s heart.  Really.  Or your wife’s for that matter.

Here’s an assumption I make when you and your spouse come to see me: your spouse is at least as smart as you.  If she wasn’t you wouldn’t have married her.  If she was stupid as soon as she opened her mouth after you met her you would have said to yourself, “Eeeuuww.”  And that would have been the end of that.  And, if, instead, you discovered she was waaaay smarter than you, you would have walked away intimidated and not pursued her at all.

Here’s another assumption I make about your marriage without even ever having met you: you don’t know everything and neither does your husband and marriage is the idea that two heads are better than one.  So if your marriage is going to be remotely what it was intended, the two of you had better listen to each other and compare notes.

Here’s a very curious thing I’ve noticed under the sun:  he’s very interested in what people on TV say, continually flipping channels to find another person to listen to and all the way home from work in the car he listens to people on the radio, but he somehow doesn’t seem interested enough in his wife to ask her what’s going on and even if he did she can’t seem to hold his attention for more than a minute.  But he can listen to TV all evening and the TV has nothing whatsoever to do with his life.  A very curious thing.

Now if you were the wife of that guy, how would you feel?

Here’s an assumption I’m making about your kids and I’ve never even met them: they don’t just want to be told what to do or reminded of their faults.  They would like to know their parents have an interest in them as people.  Rebellious kids by and large come from families where no one listened to anyone.

What would happen in your family dynamic, if, instead of being so concerned that everyone understands you, you sought to understand your family members?

I know one thing.  They might even be glad you’re home.

Really.

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