One of the more challenging things that comes up in all relationships is listening and tuning into your partner when you are triggered or upset.
It is in these moments that we must find our ground and slow down so that we can really be present with our partner. How can we build our listening acumen?
Listening is one of the most important skills in any relationship.
How often are you in the midst of a disagreement with your partner and you start to check out? Instead of hearing their words or trying to understand their perspective you move to a defensive posture and you focus on crafting your response rather than really paying attention. When we shut off our ability to listen, finding intimacy with our partner is lost. Great relationships need to establish great listening skills.
What makes a great listener?
Some would say that you should listen like the sky.
This means that we stay in a spacious place where there is lots of room to hear and reflect. When we are triggered, our minds really focus on the hurt. We get defensive and respond either by getting upset or shutting down. This is not the place for listening.
The sky is spacious. It is all around us and inside of us. There is so much room for the other person when we have this spacious response.
We can hold our hurt to the side and make room for the other’s pain and struggle with spacious listening. We can listen with a more compassionate heart rather than just waiting for our turn to respond.
When we are more mindful of our experience, we have a more spacious listening response.
Mindfulness teaches us how to notice our thoughts, feelings and sensations without judging them or letting them run the show. We can notice the hurt, the defensiveness and the impulse to lash out. We may also notice the desire to run away from our partner. When we are able to notice all of this, rather than be in it, we have more space to respond from our heart.
For many of us we grew up in families that didn’t know how to listen.
The form of communication was usually arguments or verbal one-upmanship. The goal was not understanding but to prove you knew more or could make the other person feel smaller.
I spent much of my life communicating with the goal of hurting the other. If someone disagreed with me I would listen to their words trying to find holes in their argument. I would ask questions, appearing to be interested, and then slowly destroy their opinion. I took satisfaction in making others feel ignorant. I feel shame in admitting this.
In seeing this way of responding to people, I am working to slow down and move towards a more spacious form of listening.
I try and let the words come in without judgment or evaluation. I notice the impulse to defend and argue their experience. With my wife, my limitations to spacious listening manifest all of the time. I get so easily provoked by her words. I take things personally and I find myself shutting down. I pull out of the conversation before it can even be a dialogue. I see myself trying to find holes in her articulations rather than speaking from my heart and compassionately hearing what is going on for her.
My work is to ground myself and stay in the struggle with her when I get triggered or feel like shutting down. Then I work to move out of the smallness my mind goes to (“how can she say that, I didn’t mean it that way, here we go again”). I override my habitual response to argue and I move towards spaciously listening to her experience. I try to open to her experience and speak from my heart seeking understanding and desiring connection.
In his book, To Be A Man, Robert Augustus Masters describes listening this way:
“Deep listening requires: being wholly attentive to the other, without losing touch with yourself; being empathically connected to the other, without any loss or weakening of your boundaries; being patient with the other, but not passively; being present and consciously embodied (aware of your sensations, breathing, posture, intentions, energy level), no matter what you’re feeling or thinking; being genuinely interested in the other, beyond what they’re saying; being able to make compassionate room for difficult states in the other; and being able to listen to yourself as you listen to the other.” (Masters, 2015)
When we can listen to our partners and allow them to have their experience without trying to change them and make them more palatable to us we open the possibility of deeper intimacy and connection.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Masters, Robert Augustus. (2015) To Be A Man: A Guide To True Masculine Power. Louisville, CO, Sounds True.
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