103 steps? Just kidding. Try 13. Read on…
Each year I think I have it; I think I know how to listen to my wife. But, as a man, trained in the art of “listening,” my knee-jerk reaction is to follow my agenda and go where I want the conversation to go, where I want her to go, what I want her to see and do, and for her to understand how awesome I am for helping her. I love to problem solve and help her have a breakthrough…none of which help us in our communication efforts. Doh!
Disclaimer 1: I’m only talking about myself and my experience. I hope that she can write a response to my post at some point, as it may be helpful to hear her take. Honey?
Disclaimer 2: I’m a typical guy. My default listening setting is this: I’m listening from my mind. I like to fix, problem solve, offer solutions, and offer bright ideas to make it all better. This runs deep inside of me and inside most men. It’s interesting to note that I get paid to listen in my profession.
Disclaimer 3: I’m still learning.
Disclaimer 4: This article is intended to help those of you who are in long-term partnerships. In a conventional marriage, people think they know each other over time, but really those people just get lazy and put each other in boxes. The more I do this dance with my wife, the less I know her. Thus, the more crucial it is to listen to her even more deeply.
So after ten years, I think I’m finally learning how to listen to my wife. I mean listen. Really listen. I’m humbled at the possibility of turning a corner here.
I posted the above sentence on Facebook recently and got a huge response. Many wondered how I did it and what I’m learning. That’s why I am writing this post.
For me, listening is an art. And listening, or my ability to listen, has gone through different phases in our relationship. I consider myself an exceptional listener and I get paid well to do it. However, listening to the same person for years and years is a different story. For example, when we first met and during our first few years, I was deeply into understanding her, so my desire was there. Who was this person? So much to explore!
As we deepened as lovers and triggered each other constantly, we slowly found our way into working through stuff and hearing each other. We were both psychotherapists, so we had tons of listening skills, yet we often over-analyzed each fight. We also had “normal” challenges that impacted my ability to listen. For example, when I’m triggered into my own issues, it’s really hard to listen and understand her, let alone be interested in what she is saying.
Prior to marriage, I had one foot in and one foot out of the relationship. This resulted in a few breakups, which shook our foundation each time. Thus, there was a part of me that wasn’t fully invested in knowing her. Of course, that showed up energetically. If I have fears that keep me from being two feet in, obviously my desire and capacity to listen will be compromised.
After we had kids, I saw her in an entirely new way.
New aspects of her emerged, and I was blown away. Yet, my listening came and went. Slowly I started to lose sleep. So did she. The gauntlet of having babies changed everything. We both began to change in a number of ways. We dialed into the team effort it takes to raise two kids. It is very much just like running a business, and we rocked it. We are still doing an exceptional job raising our kids both individually and together. However, as sleep issues wore on, I became less available to her in terms of communication. My desire to listen was compromised again, and I became more complacent.
But now we are entering a new phase of our relationship.
Now, as our kids get older, we have more space to turn toward each other and find each other again. I’m inspired to take our connection to the next level on my side. I want to go deeper. So, I’ll need to face whatever is in the way.
And, the other night I had a breakthrough of sorts, which prompted this post. I simply dropped my agenda and really joined her. My heart was there. I rode the waves as she shared more and more with me. With each step, I could tell she opened more. I found myself becoming even more present, more aware, and more available. She seemed to soften and open, soften and open. Some kind of synergy was happening with us. I kept noticing the classic fixer and problem solver instinct coming up within myself, and I kept letting it go.
We both agreed later on that it felt good for both of us. A lightbulb went on, and I understood her in a new way. Since that day, I’ve fallen into my go-to default old way many times, but I’ve also found a little traction in the new way of communicating. It’s practice. I’m learning.
So, if you are a dude (or a woman) who wants to learn how to listen in a deeper way over the long haul, here’s a few pointers based on what I’m learning right now.
You’ll need to put a few things in place:
1. Reframe listening.
First, let’s reframe this whole listening business, mostly because many people think they listen well and most are missing the point. Instead of listening, I like to use the term getting her world, which is a term I learned years ago from Guy Sengstock. Getting her world means I’m invested in knowing all of her and deeply understanding who she is and what makes her tick. When she feels understood by me, she feels that I see her and know her. New things can happen from this place. So, learn to get her world. And, getting her world is a very active process.
This seems to be the foundation. The more I’m connected to myself, my body, and my heart, the more available I am to her and to really hearing her. When I’m disconnected, I’m less and less available to her, my kids, and my friends; life tends to feel drab and dull. If I’m not connected to myself, I can’t connect to her.
3. Heart Desire.
Desire is my genuine interest in knowing her. My heart has to be online first, then care and interest naturally follow. Sure, desire comes and goes, but when desire is there, my capacity and interest to listen is directly reflected and she feels like I’m present with her. Most folks listen with the mind only. Adding the heart takes listening to the next level.
4. Cultivate your other senses.
When I’m really deeply listening to her, I’m using other senses…my body, my intuition, my gut, my toes, my hands. More is going on than I can imagine. Feel yourself and her as you listen.
5. Use your co-dependency to your advantage.
A lot of men are way more sensitive and tuned into their woman than they think. This is annoying when a man can’t learn to capitalize on his sensitivity and he’s just neurotically tracking her like a hurt boy. If you are going to be tracking her that much, then learn to track her in a non-hurt little boy, hyper-vigilant kind of way. Instead, use your sensitivity to your advantage and really hear her.
6. Get skills.
I have plenty, but when used without the other suggestions, they are exceedingly limited. Get some skills. Learn how to get her world, validate and share impact (all of which I cover in my classes).
7. Drop your agenda.
If you are a man, this will be hard. Let go of where you think it’s going and what you want for her. Problem solving isn’t what she wants, unless she asks you directly for that.
8. Be okay with any emotion.
If you struggle with experiencing strong emotions, this will be difficult. So, you’ll need to become more comfortable with yourself and your inner terrain. You’ll also need to move toward what’s uncomfortable. I learned this one early in my career as a psychotherapist. I will unconsciously block someone from where he or she wants to go if I’m scared to go there within myself. Likewise, women who feel their man shut down, check out, or become uncomfortable with their full range of emotions will retract, refrain from sharing, shut down, and trust you less over time.
9. Clear out baggage with The Feminine or Mom.
Many men struggle to really listen to their woman because they are still angry at Mom, ex-girlfriends, etc. It’s often buried under denial, but it’s probably in there.
10. See your relationship with her as a path.
We have to see our relationships with significant others as paths in order to know ourselves more clearly. The more we clear out our own baggage, the more we can see others for who they actually are.
11. Don’t take her for granted.
When we live with someone day in and day out for many many years, we can take our significant others for granted. That’s painful to see, but it’s true. It happens. So, if you are in a long-term partnership, you are at greater risk for this one. Staying inspired and invested in your own heart is the way to avoid this one.
12. Check in and get feedback.
Does she feel heard, understood, and known by me? If not, I’m not getting her, no matter how hard I try. Just ask. Trust her answer and go back and try again.
13. Remember that she is an ocean.
Her depths will never truly be explored in this lifetime, so I can relax, knowing that she is truly a mystery. Settle in and plan on never fully knowing her. Be an explorer of a never-ending universe. How exciting!
When we, as humans, feel heard, we soften and we relax. We come out of fight or flight or freeze modes. We feel safe. We open. We are now available for love, sex, and deeper layers of relating and connecting.
There’s so many layers to listening to her. The more I’m truly there with all of my being, the more her flower petals open.
When she opens like a flower, my love grows and my heart expands.
What a beautiful and fascinating ride we are on.
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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: elephant archives