Recently my partner and I were coming back from a spiritual retreat.
We were both aglow with the deep experiences we’d had and full of appreciation for each other, but on the long drive we ended up discussing a touchy subject, and before long we were in a cycle of reaction to each other that left both of us feeling hurt and shut down.
Later that night my partner said something that really struck me deeply.
“When you’re reacting to what I’ve said, your reaction takes up the entire space and I can’t process my feelings about this situation, so I feel like I’m stuck in it.”
When she said that I was stunned, because she was right. My reaction was taking up so much space in the conversation that nothing else was being worked through. For that matter, the reaction itself wasn’t being worked through because it was a reaction to something we’d endlessly chewed over, but never really resolved. It couldn’t be resolved as long as I continued to take up the space with my reaction.
I took to heart what she said that night and resolved to listen and hold space instead of reaction. However, as we all know, listening and holding space can be its own challenge, especially when you are trying not to react.
I would like to share what I did the very next time we had a tough conversation and what I’ve been doing since to hold space and listen.
A few days after that conversation, my partner brought up the issue again. We were cuddling in bed and she expressed how she wasn’t feeling fully connected to me. I felt a knot in my belly, but instead of acting on it, I asked her how she wasn’t feeling fully connected to me. As she told me her answer, I held her and stilled my mind, just listening intently to what she had to say.
Every time my emotions started to rise and react to what she was saying, I allowed myself to acknowledge them as feelings, but not give them thought. I didn’t think about them. I just felt them, while continuing to listen to her. In that act of feeling, I was able to let go of my attachments to the feelings and let them dissolve away, while continuing to listen to her.
Occasionally I would ask questions, to learn more about what she needed to share with me. I didn’t say anything else. This wasn’t about my narrative or my guilt or justifications or anything else. It was just about listening to her and fully hearing what she said, while also feeling and letting go of the emotions that rose up in response.
Because I was doing this, she was able to give voice to feelings she hadn’t expressed to me, to discuss events that had been brought up, but not fully expressed.
Was it hard to listen to? You better believe it was. And there were a few moments where I really had to struggle not to give voice to my emotions in response. But I recognized that if I did that, it would no longer be a space where she was expressing herself. It would be a space of reaction.
Eventually, she asked me a question and with that question was the handover of the space. Now I could express myself and share what I was feeling, but in a manner where it wasn’t about the reaction, but instead was about a genuine conversation between two people intimately seeking to resolve differences and find harmony with each other.
Since that conversation, I’ve continued practicing these skills and what I’ve discovered is that it’s helping us resolve issues much quicker and leading to deeper intimacy, love, and spiritual connection. In choosing to listen and hold space instead of react, what we are both discovering is the love beneath the hurt, the grace of resolution and a deepening desire to focus on what makes both of us shine in our relationship.
When you are in a situation with a friend or partner where you might react, try the following to hold space and listen:
1. Ask questions with an open mind and curious heart.
2. Let yourself feel whatever comes up, but don’t think about it. Simply feel and let go.
3. Listen intently without thinking about your response. Just listen and let the words bring up whatever emotions come up, but again feel and let go.
4. Wait until the person asks a question before you share your thoughts, feelings, etc. When a question is asked then the space is for the person who is answering questions.
When you practice these skills consistently you will discover a deeper connection and intimacy with your partner and it will take less time to resolve difficult issues.
Author: Taylor Ellwood
Editor: Emily Bartran