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