by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are talking past each other? It’s certainly easy to conclude that our politicians on the so-called “right” and “left” talk past each other constantly! And there are times, I suspect, when parents and children may be guilty of the same.

Since I can’t do anything to change the behavior patterns of those I speak to, I can do something about how I listen and respond. It can be difficult to begin with the “man in the mirror” as Michael Jackson put it, but I am humbly recognizing that I am the only place I can go to make a change.

It’s frustrating when one feels misunderstood. And how can we be understood when no one is listening to what we’re saying or our meaning is being misconstrued?

One thing is certain. If we continue to talk past each other, agreements will never be reached, good decisions will never be made, and harmony and happiness will continue to elude us.

I’m the first to admit the challenge of understanding beyond my frame of reference and experience. Empathy — with the attempt to put oneself in another’s shoes — is a worthy effort but not one that is easy to genuinely accomplish.

Yet something is telling me that I must make a greater effort or at least want to make an effort, if ever I hope to have someone do the same for me.

I think any change begins with a sincere desire. In fact, I believe if we have a sincere desire, anything is possible, doable and achievable.

I can see how my husband has talked past me. Usually, I’m so busy thinking he’s not listening to me or not understanding me that I’m not listening or caring about what he has to say. So I find myself as guilty as I think he is.

What a vicious cycle talking past each other can be!

One could conclude that we are a bunch of slow learners. I think Jesus came to this conclusion once. I often chuckle to myself when I read in the Gospels where the disciples couldn’t heal a child and so they brought him to Jesus for healing. And Jesus’ first comment was, “How many times do I have to go over these things?” (Mark 9:19)

So we may have to repeat ourselves from time to time. We may have to rethink our word choice or use a different emphasis on select words to get our point across. So do it. We must do whatever it takes to understand and be understood. Let’s not give up on each other!

There are lots of theories out about how repetition impacts or improves our memory, but I’m not convinced mere repetition alone is what it takes for us to accomplish better understanding. No, I think it has much more to do with our desire — our sincere desire — to listen and to understand others. This desire results in the kind of effort that leads to mutual and accurate understanding.

When we are tempted to raise our voice in an attempt to clarify our stance or walk away in dismay or disappointment, we would be wise to rethink these actions. I have found that the louder I speak, the more defensive or close-minded the person I’m directing my remarks to becomes.

And I have been guilty of walking away when feeling misunderstood. In fact, it’s my most frequent response. But I’m finally admitting the futileness of such action. Of course there are times, when I’m feeling angry for example, that walking away and cooling off before giving a response may be a wise move.

I feel certain, though, that if I really want to be understood better, I need to make sure I’m doing my best to understand. Communication, like any other aspect of our lives, is best served when we have the Golden Rule as our guide. This means listening and speaking to others in the way we long for them to listen and speak to us.

I must say that when I was in Italy, I was impressed by the conversations I witnessed between Italian men and women. I was awed by the full attention they seem to give each other. It was as if nothing else was going on around them but what was being said to one another. Something told me that giving my full attention is a skill to be improved upon.

So I’m going on record here, my friends. My desire — my prayer — is that I will endeavor to better listen to and understand my husband’s feelings, needs and viewpoints. And my desire is to do the same with my daughter and other family members, friends and strangers, too.

And hopefully, talking past each other will become a thing of the past!