(Don’t Lawyer Up… Yet.)
Read This First… Points to Consider Before You Lawyer Up
Should I get a lawyer…. you may be asking yourself this right now after a particularly bad event or fight. It is natural to want to defend ourselves when we feel threatened. When the people we love are being critical, blaming or outright hostile we want to deny their opinion of us. In this defensive posture we act as lawyers, not listening or caring for the other but finding reasons they are wrong. What if we changed our defensive posture to one that allowed for a more present openhearted response? What if we were able to listen to understand rather than plan our response as a way to fight back? What if these interactions stopped being about winning and started being about understanding?
When Your Relationship or Marriage Feels Like It’s Over
Our primitive response to threat comes in a flash. We can feel our face, arms and hands tighten and our mind focuses energy towards the person we perceive as attacking. Immediately we want to defend against what they are saying. We want to turn the argument around and put it on our partner…accuse them for what we are being accused.
If this sounds familiar it is because we all do this. We all get defensive when we feel we are being barraged with aggressive energy. The thing we do next is often start to listen for reasons the other person is wrong. This is why I liken this to being a lawyer. A person who is steeped in the law is often engaging a witness not to understand them but to find out the mistakes in their testimony. By doing this they are strengthening their case.
In some ways we are all defense attorneys attempting to protect ourselves by coming up with reasons the other person is wrong. The problem with this strategy is that we aren’t in a court of law. We are in our home with someone we love.
Trying to avoid or control other people doesn’t resolve your reactivity.Michael P. Nichols
Awareness Is Key
I feel like a broken record talking about awareness because I talk about it a lot in these blog posts. The truth is nothing really can improve if we aren’t aware of what’s happening. When we are aware of how we are experiencing someone’s intrusion into our mental space then we have more options. We can begin to manage what is happening inside us and move out of the anxiety/anger by being aware of it and naming it.
We do this by being aware of the tension in our chests and the difficulty in our breath. We may even have enough resilience in the moment to say “I’m feeling anxious and upset.” Once we have started to feel it and name it we have already started to shift our primitive response out of fight flight and into a more manageable set of nervous system responses.
Often it’s a burden. Not, perhaps, the perfunctory attention we grant as part of the give-and-take of everyday life. But the sustained attention of careful listening—that takes strenuous and unselfish restraint. To listen well we must forget ourselves and submit to the other person’s need for attention.
Michael P. Nichols
It is important to acknowledge that in order to be a better listener we need to be very generous with our mental resources. So how do we become more generous with our mental energy so that we can listen better? We have to decide to do it. We have to be intentional. Set an intention each day that you will be generous with your partner/loved one and work to be more present with them. The intention will continually focus you towards doing the thing you are intending more often.
The value of acceptance is that it allows us to stop fighting what is. It doesn’t mean we can’t have boundaries and encourage our loved ones to treat us better. Acceptance is allowing, in the moment, what is happening. I think it also comes into play in how we listen to each other. For a long time I wanted my partner to talk to me in a certain way. I would groan and send all kinds of non-verbal feedback to her that her way of saying things wasn’t okay with me. I wasn’t listening to her words often I was just pissed that she talked to me a certain way.
What I have tried to do (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) lately is accept that she sometimes expresses herself in ways that make me feel uncomfortable. I may offer some boundary if it feels extreme but mostly I’ve worked to be okay with her voice inflection and volume. What this has done is it has allowed me to settle into the conversation more without trying to control her way of talking. This has allowed her to feel more seen and listened to and actually changed the way she talks to me. Funny isn’t it? When we accept people as they are they start to feel safer around us and they don’t need to express themselves in ways that feel uncomfortable.
A relationship matures when you can allow the other person to be who he or she is. If your mother criticizes everybody and you can’t accept this, your life may be dominated by your attempt to stop her (and everybody else, for that matter) from criticizing anything or anyone. Once you can let your mother be a person who’s critical—in other words, accept that she is who she is—you don’t have to fight it or organize your life around it.
Michael P. Nichols
How This Shows Up In My Life
Ohhhh…I wish I could say that I’ve become a successful listener and really do this most of the time. The truth is that I struggle with being present with my loved ones all the time. I get triggered and instantly start to lawyer up.
The shift in me is that I can sometimes notice when I’m doing this and slow down and open my heart. When I do this the energy in the room changes and there is a much better chance that what ever is being argued or fought about will find a resolution.
The most common strategy I see in my practice is people organizing around their partner’s behaviors and trying and get them to change so that they can then be good partners. I also did this for much of my marriage. Now my goal is to focus on me. I intend each day to listen with a present open heart for the good of my partner and the good of our relationship. My goal is not to win the argument but to understand my partner and learn more about who she is as a person.
As I type this all I can think about are the times I have failed. I also can recall times that have gone well. I believe we are always doing the best we can with the resources we have in our lives. Don’t let yourself off the hook…and be patient. Little micro changes over a long time bring you to a new way of listening.
If you or someone you know is struggling with how to listen effectively I encourage you to reach out.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!