The book, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, was published over 30 years ago.
It describes the different ways partners would prefer to have their mates show love to them.
I have found it helpful in my marriage as my husband and I have learned to express our love in ways that the other understands and wants. Recently, I had an experience that shone a light on another type of love language.
I didn’t even know how upset I was until I started telling my husband about the email I had received the day before. I had read the critical comment and moved on to the next email in my inbox with no real acknowledgment of the impact on me. However, the next morning as we sat together drinking our morning coffee, he asked me what was on my mind. It was then that I got in touch with my true emotions.
I was angry! I felt my body vibrating and the words spilled out in a torrent. I shouted and cried as I spit out my words with a furious energy that shook the space between us. I suspected that underneath my anger was hurt and pain from my sense of betrayal. I also knew that it was necessary for me to express my anger fully. Pushing it away or moving through it too quickly only meant it would go underground. I sensed intuitively it was necessary for me to release my anger.
As I ranted, my husband sat on the couch across from me, and waited. He nodded and held my gaze in silence. He did not tell me to be quiet. He did not hand me a tissue to stem my tears. He had no advice for me. He listened.
It took some time for the storm to slow down. My voice softened as I took a big shuddering breath. I unclenched my fists and swiped at the tears on my face. We sat quietly for some moments, and then I explored what was really going on. I was ready to talk about the content of the email and figure out what had caused my reaction. I was open to my husband’s reflections and together we sat with my pain and hurt. In that moment, I felt my heart swelling up with love and gratitude for how I had been listened to. I was seen. I was accepted. I was going to be okay.
What was the magic that led me to feel listened to?
If you observe someone listening to another, you may think that they are not doing much at all. However, listening is not a passive state. To truly listen is to be actively engaged with the other person.
What does it look like to show up in this way?
Here are some attributes I have chosen to use when I am given the opportunity to listen. These are significant because I have learned how powerful it is when someone uses these tools as they listen to me.
Being fully present is the foundation for listening. This means removing all distractions so I can fully focus on what is happening with the other person. Turning off my phone, closing my laptop, or switching off the TV are all ways to remove interruptions. It also means I set aside my own list of projects and other concerns that hover in my awareness while I am listening.
Silence invites the other person’s story. I slow down my breathing and sit calmly as I wait to hear more. I have an open posture with my arms relaxed and my body facing them. I maintain eye contact, making sure it isn’t overwhelming or intrusive.
I have learned to “give space” to the person who is sharing with me. I do not jump in with advice or interrupt them with a competing story of my own. Matching their experience with mine does not show true listening, even if I think my way of handling a similar situation might help them. I have learned that my advice is best given when asked for.
I refrain from critical comments or judgmental body language. I may not agree with their perspective, however, this is not the time to get into an argument. Discussion may come later with gentle questions and authentic curiosity.
Becoming a listener means I pay attention to my experience while they are talking. This includes noticing the part of me that gets anxious when someone else is emotionally upset. I want to fix their situation so that I feel better! The problem is that they may not be ready to be comforted or given advice. It is a challenge for me to stay present with my discomfort and not rush into a solution.
As I listen, I remind myself that releasing emotions takes time and is an important aspect of healing. I trust that the person I am listening to will discover more of their own wisdom as they express their emotions. My acceptance for them is a doorway for them to enter into increased love for themselves.
When I think back to that morning when my husband listened to me, I realize how he exhibited these attributes. His presence invited me to further explore my experience, and I came through to a place of clarity and peace. Because of his way of being that day, I discovered the steps to take in setting boundaries and honouring myself. I also realized that his listening was a gift that opened my heart to his love.
The new love language I discovered was that of being listened to.
When I told my husband how his listening had impacted me, we laughed together at the concept that listening could be a way of him seducing me! At the very least, our experience connected our hearts and created intimacy.
Being witnessed is a beautiful sensation, and I want to have more of that in my life. Both as the listener, and the one who is being listened to.