To be an intentional couple, one of the core skills that must be mastered is the art of listening. We have been given gross information about what listening is and how we should do it. Some folks think that they should be making grand facial expressions while mutter “uh huh…”, nodding their head and wrinkling their brow to show that they are listening. But listening is something entirely different. Today we are going to talk about why we listen and how we alter our approaches to listening.
We listen for four key reasons: to allow someone to vent, to help them unpack something in their head, to seek understanding, and perhaps to resolve something. Let’s look at each of them independently.
There are so many times that I am sitting with a couple who are in distress, feeling unheard and struggling through difficult communication. They unintentionally are making the process so much harder for themselves. I can see them getting stuck in the who is right argument and discounting the reality that there can be more than one truth. This is where a small shift can make a big difference!
We work hard to get the job. We interview as best we can. We get the job. But, how often do we really get a good job description. I am talking about the job of partner, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, husband, wife. More people sit in my office and say things like "S/he is just never happy...no matter what I do!" or "S/he keeps pushing me away and I don't know why!"
We are all leaders – in our own way. Whether we are at work, with our friends or family or in a social organization, we are all leaders. We may not be the stand in the front of the room and yell a rallying cry kind of leader, but we all influence others and leave an impact on those around us. What kind of leader are you?
Yesterday I put my own advice into action. I invited a colleague to join me to walk the labyrinth. Really, this is something I should be doing more of as it is an amazing path to mindfulness. When I work folks, we often include some form of meditation, mindfulness or centering to help manage anxiety, fear, stress, discord and just general feeling blah. There are many people who love meditation and find it to be an important part of their mental health. There are just as many who, try as they might, can seem to quiet their minds and bodies to be still. I am one of the latter. Quiet still meditation is hard for me – I can do it from time to time but it seems to take a great effort to get there. I do it whenever I can. However, when time is precious or being still just seems in possible, I try a moving meditation – like walking a labyrinth.
When I work with couples, one of the earliest things we do is look at how we communicate. We begin with the basics of starting to look at our words and tone so that we can hear and understand each other. As we get deeper into our process we begin to look at something far more challenging, and potentially more destructive than our words. We begin to look at our assumptions.
Sometimes we make mistakes and we ruminate: why did I do this, why didn't I do this, what can I do next time, what I wish I did, and the criticism continues. Guess what, it didn't get better and chances are you, at least I did, continued to make that same mistake.
When I start working with a new couple or individual around relationship concerns I often begin by asking them what their relationship goals are. Most, but not all, will tell me that they are just looking for a nice, loving, monogamous relationship. They say that like I am supposed to know what that means -- and I don't. Not that I am clueless, but rather because I know that there is more than one meaning to the word monogamous.
My grandmother always told me that it was the greatest honor to be with someone when they took their first breath and when they took their last breath. She was a very wise woman. However, when managing this whole life and death journey, the life part seems infinitely easier and full of joy and we dread the death part, preparing ourselves for a journey of great sorrow, guilt and loneliness. But, it doesn't have to be that way.
You have made your list but halfway through it you realize it is too much. Your brain starts to be filled with counter thoughts, excuses why it is hard to do this or what is going to make it hard, or worse, you cannot decide where to start. OH NO!!! This starts the negative thinking; the self-deprecating statements; hours on end of wondering why you cannot do something this simple; your chest feels tight or your body feels burdened. So much for spring!!!
I have had patient after patient come into my office talking about what a harsh and relentless winter this has been. I can’t agree more! It is always interesting to see how people talk about the weather. There are two classic perspectives that get presented: How cold it is on the thermometer and how much energy is being used by the thermostat. What an interesting way to understand ourselves as well!
You can’t dig your way out of a hole. Think about it. You are in a hole and you keep digging. What happens? Eventually, the hole gets so deep that you can’t throw the dirt out of the hole anymore and it just keeps falling back down around you. If you start to dig sideways, the integrity of the walls weakens and risks falling in around you. What should you do?
Divorce isn’t easy on anyone. When you are getting divorced with children, trying to minimize the amount of change and disruption can be overwhelming. Nesting is where the children stay in the family home and the parents take turns coming in and out according to the parenting schedule. Think of it as the kids have custody of the parents who come home and then go to the other house! Nesting is not for everyone and is fraught with difficulties, but when the situation works, there are great benefits.
Divorce is never easy on anyone. When you have children, it is even more complex. How you make decisions to navigate the divorce process and ensure your children are as insulated as possible will take special insight and a tremendous amount of personal resiliency.
Have you ever been in a relationship (whether romantic or platonic) and felt frustration about how things were going -- wishing the other person would behave differently? You have tried being nice, coaching them to change (whether they knew it or not) and spent hours considering how impossible it is that someone couldn’t notice how inappropriate and unsatisfying their behavior is? We have all experienced it. Sometimes we can just let it go and sometimes it gets so bad we find ourselves in a divorce, looking for a new job or estranged from a friend or loved one.
Everyone wants to be a winner! Everyone likes to be right…right? Unfortunately, these two things aren’t the same thing and don’t always go together. Do you ever find yourself in an argument with your partner or friend and you are pushing to make sure they see your point and understand why you are right and they are wrong? Tempers and decibels start to rise and you are left confused on how you ended up sleeping on the couch.