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Listening Skills

Listening is important because if we do not learn it and miss hearing the intuition that would guide us in the most satisfying direction in life. Perhaps we miss hearing the many things the person we are going to marry is telling us, or even what our body is telling us about how it feels when we eat what we eat. Often we are so busy thinking our own thoughts that we completely do not hear what our children or those near us are telling us.

My youngest son Quentin had been asleep so I left him and took the dog for a walk. When I came back I found him awake, sitting in the boy’s bedroom in the chair by a sleeping Mark. He had obviously found an empty house and sorted out the only company he could find. His comforter firmly in his mouth, and a bag of animals in his hand, he was sitting quietly. When I came in he scolded me for having gone without him. Later as I was getting the boys sandwiches and taking Quentin to the toilet, he said his legs had gone off and he needed to be carried. I refused and said he could perfectly well walk downstairs. We argued this out and he gradually walked downstairs shouting, but at the kitchen door he refused to walk any further, and feeling irritated I said he could jolly well stay there then.

Later in the day I suddenly saw so clearly the meaning of this little drama. I saw how because I had left him alone he had been afraid and had sat with his sleeping brother as his only armour against this fear. He was really saying, “Dad I was frightened and alone when you weren’t here. Please come to me to show you really want me. Come and pick me up so I can see you love me.”

Blind fool that I am, I couldn’t see this, and now my tears of regret poured out in deeply felt sobs. I wanted to get to Quentin so quickly, to tell him I was sorry, and show him I loved him.

Step One: Sit with your partner in a comfortable way and in a setting you will not be disturbed in. Decide who is going to start, and what the issue is you want to explore. Only deal with one issue at a time, not all the pains you might be blaming each other for.

The partner who is going to speak now says what they need to without any interruption – that means NO interruption. If you are the one speaking you say what you want to without blaming your partner for your hurts or what you feel. You do this by explaining what you felt in what happened. So, instead of saying, ‘You walked out and slammed the door in the middle of me trying to talk with you and made me feel shitty for the rest of the day,’ you could say, ‘When you walked out the other day and slammed the door while I was trying to talk with you, I felt as if a door had been slammed on my feelings of connection with you.’

As the listener you do not respond until your partner has finished. Then you repeat what you understood was said. This is not a game of win or lose. It is about real working partnership, so if your partner does not agree that you understood what was said, they should repeat the bits you failed to grasp until you can repeat clearly what their statement was. Very often we don’t listen, but are just waiting for them to finish so we can put forward our own argument. This requires us to actually take in what our partner is saying and what they need.

You then change roles and repeat it the other way around.

Step Two: When you have learned how to do that to your mutual satisfaction you now actually change roles. You get up and sit where your partner was sitting. Then you see if you can be them as fully as possible. This is not about repeating what they said accurately, it is about sympathetically or even empathetically seeing if you can feel what it is like to be them, and speak or express from that place.

The first step was about learning how to listen and actually hear each other without argument or conflict. This step is concerned with learning how to understand your partner, to stand in their shoes. It might take a while to learn, but believe me you have it in you to do. You cannot live with someone and have any degree of sexual relationship without absorbing an enormous amount of insight and knowledge about them. Maybe it happened out of the corner of your eye, unconsciously, but it happened. Now you are tuning into it and letting your partner see and know how much they have entered into you. As with the other skills, it needs practice, but you can do it. See What we take in from others

Repeat this until you are mutually satisfied. This may take many sessions, but it is a pathway to real marriage. It leads to the recognition that your partner is not you. They are a wonderful unique being who you have chosen to build a life together with. If you truly meet this unique being, then you can develop ways of living together and working toward a future with each other. From the understanding arrived at you can begin to make adjustments to how you deal with each other and your way of life together. As one woman said, ‘When I tried to explain things to my husband he would just grunt. In fact that was the nickname his friends gave him, ‘Grunt’. If I was enthusiastic he would tell me to shut up and be quiet. But now I am with a man who listens and appreciates me. He explains his difficult responses if we hit them, and tries to understand mine. So, I feel so much love and support now.’

Heart to heart communication between family, friends and associates is still a problem for many people. Some further tips on creative and healing listening are:

1) Take time fairly frequently to really share your feelings. This involves exposing what you feel, your vulnerabilities and failings in some degree. If you find it difficult to talk about such things as love, sex or anger try using an analogy. A client, when asked what his difficulty was with his wife appeared to talk about something else. He told how he often went to lean on his garden fence, and sometimes a woman neighbour goes by and they talk and laugh together. He obviously didn’t know how to define his problem, but the story told it all. He needed more times of happy talking and laughing with his wife.

2) We all want to be heard, but often we don’t let our partner finish a sentence or explore their theme. We don’t participate, or maybe we pull back because feelings other than positive one’s disturb us. It is enormously healing to be able to accept your partner’s pains as well as happiness. So, a great way to help them unfold their feelings is to ask questions that show interest, and not criticise or pull back from their difficult feelings. Also, what are they suggesting ‘between the lines’ of what is being said, and what is their body language saying? Occasionally summarise what words and body have revealed and give feedback.

3) Have controlled arguments when needed. We cannot agree with each other all the time, and creative arguments can unveil important realisations that were lost in difficult feelings. Such creative arguments can only occur if you both avoid blaming your partner for what you feel. Better to say ‘I’ instead of ‘you’. Avoid criticism, contempt and defensiveness. Keep in mind what you are trying to resolve, and that you ARE trying to resolve it rather than win an argument, so take stock every so often.

4) Great and deeply satisfying communication is a skill and needs us to learn to meet each other from a different standpoint than we may have learned in life so far. It is not simply conversation. It is communication. To emphasise this it is worthwhile suggesting you spend a certain time together in this way. For instance most of us are reared in a way that suggests things can be right or wrong, and that we are either good or bad. These types of judgments and attitudes do not allow great communication.

Supposing, as an example we say to a child, ‘You are really naughty.’ If we took time to really examine what was happening, it might be that we felt anxious or angry about what the child did. So, creative communication needs you to say just that. ‘I felt really scared when you did that.’ Or perhaps, ‘I am feeling so tired and vulnerable at the moment I keep snapping at you,’ instead of, ‘If you don’t stop upsetting me I am going to kick you.’

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