Unsolicited Marriage Advice from an American Expat: Be a Good Listener and Your German Spouse Will Thank You

“What’s that you say, dear? I’m having trouble hearing you over all this dysfunction.” — Image Credit: Sue Clark (https://www.flickr.com/photos/perpetualplum/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Copyright.

My German wife and I have only been married since 2012, so I’m not an expert or anything, but being a good listener seems to be a pretty important part of marriage. That is, if you want to stay married, I mean. If you’d rather catapult yourself through a sudden divorce, go ahead and let your eyes glaze over whenever your spouse starts talking to you. Hold your thumb down on the TV remote, steadily increasing the volume until the sound of her voice is drowned out entirely. You’ll be on your own in no time.

But being a good listener doesn’t necessarily mean you have to actually do anything. In fact, the less you do while your spouse is talking, the better. When it comes to daily communication — like when you tell one another about your respective workdays — listening is really all about being present. Face your spouse. Keep your eyes open. Nod every once in a while. Maybe throw a grunt or two in there. It’s so easy! By merely being present (in body, if not in mind), what you’re actually doing is allowing your partner to vent. You’re refraining from doing or saying things which might hinder the verbal diarrhea your partner so desperately needs to spray you with. Just square up to that fire hose and take it in the eardrums.

Obviously there are times when you need to actively comprehend what you’re hearing and then offer up some kind of response, like, “Yes, honey, it sounds like that woman on the train was being a bitch. That bitch.” — but those times are pretty rare. On a daily basis, most people just need to unload their emotions onto something slightly more animated than a freshly painted wall. This is why, when my wife comes home and tells me in vivid detail all about her day at work, I just shut my dirty hole and watch her talk. And for this small amount of effort — 9 times out of 10 — my German wife will reward me by wrapping things up with a sigh and saying:

“Thank you for your open ear.”*

*Translated directly from the German saying, “Danke für dein offenes Ohr.”

If you would like to read another classic Denglish post, check this one out: My German Wife Struggles to Organize A Traditional Swiss Raclette Dinner in America



6 thoughts

  1. That is WONDERFUL advice for anyone in ANY relationship. It often takes years to figure out that she doesn’t want you to fix anything or help her make what’s bothering her go away; she just wants to verbalized a situation or issue and be sure she has an ally, that she’s not alone in the world, and that you WOULD help her take action if she needed your help, which usually she doesn’t. I think men are conditioned, either genetically or by societal norms or maybe both, to FIX STUFF and to solve problems. Usually that’s NOT what a capable woman wants at all–all the verbiage is just a way of “thinking,” a kind of “working through,” and deciding if more should be done, or if things are just fine now that she’s shared the experience or the encounter and told her most trusted “friend” about it. That’s all! You are fairly unusual to have figured this out so early in your marriage. Listening cements your relationship and deepens your mutual trust. It’s good for both of you. I commend you on offering your willing and “open ear,” and congratulate the wife on choosing such a good partner!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Lost in A Little Town and commented:
    Advice on how to stay married. Pretty solid, really. Especially as the usual ranter in the scenario. Just listen because the answer is already known. You just need to chime in occasionally and let know you’re still present.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And what are you going to do with the rest of your married life, now that you have already figured out the secret? ;-) No, seriously, even if you meant it ironically – you are up to something there. Women just need a vent – not necessarily a problem shooter. Especially GERMAN women, who are pretty capable of doing nearly everything (apart from killing spiders, of course).


  4. Hmmm…after 20 years with my partner I still haven’t learned one important lesson: while venting, there are certain words I really must refrain from using. Somehow, when I am really, really angry I channel awesome sailor speak- much to the continued horror of my significant other. There is one word in particular that is singular in shape, sound, and is very apt in a grossly descriptive way that I am sometimes taken to task for. “Don’t use that word around me. You know how much I hate that word. How many times do I have to ask you not to use that word!!” Ears closed. End of discussion…


  5. It seems you start understanding how to treat your wife. Be a good listener is a wonderful beginning. Wait five more years and she’ll know exactly whether or not you just listen to be polite or to really support her… :-) Please, let me know when she finds out. I don’t want to miss that. LOL ;-)


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