Listening is like dancing. If you get the steps in the right order there is flow and harmony. If you skip a step or reverse them, someone trips up, often resulting in tension and upset.
Within marriage, it can be difficult to listen well. It is easy to “react” to what one hears instead of simply listening. Perhaps this is a skill problem, similar to that of partners on the dance floor who are all left feet. It might be necessary to learn the routine.
I have noticed many times that, when conversing, the two spouses are very perceptive of each other’s moods. When they are talking and one person becomes upset the other usually picks it up immediately.
The other thing I have noticed is that few partners know what to do when the other person becomes “emotional”. The second person will attempt to clarify his/her point or give advice, in an attempt to deal with the feelings of the other. This usually does not help and often makes things worse.
A harmless conversation can be derailed by the arrival of feelings, which are in turn mishandled.
Listening is like dancing, in that there are sequential steps to take in order for the experience to be successful. Many people skip Step One and go to Step Two right away and wonder then why they have stumbled.
In the listening dance, Step One is compassion or empathy. To be compassionate is to walk in the shoes of the other in order to experience their reality. To be compassionate means to enter the other’s world and accept what one hears. That’s all there is to it. In theory it is very simple!
Hugh and Zoe (not their real names) were talking and Zoe noticed that her husband was getting tense. She continued to talk, knowing it was important to be “open”. Later, in our counselling session, I congratulated her on two things: being more open (as she traditionally was reserved), and noticing the tension in her husband. I then asked her to try something different. When talking next time, if her spouse seemed tense, instead of ignoring it, she could pause and ask if he is indeed anxious. In other words, when a feeling shows up in a conversation, it can be very helpful to embrace it or discuss it. This is Step One in the “Listening Two Step.”
After confirming that the feeling is there and clarifying what it is (since it may be different than what one first thought), it is good to ask if the other person wants to continue the conversation or stop. If both are willing to continue, then Step Two can take place.
Step Two can be reassurance or clarification of a point or advice or resolution of the misunderstanding etcetera. If a person senses that their feeling has been heard, acknowledged and accepted, she/he is more open to listening to the advice of the other person.
So, Step One in the “Listening Two Step” is compassion or accepting the feeling; Step Two is offering information, such as a clarification or intent or a suggestion. Then it is back to Step One to see how the other feels about the information shared and then on once again to Step Two: ie. more advice or info etcetera.
Learning the “Listening Two Step” will allow any couple to more effectively hear each other so that their daily talks can be more meaningful and helpful to the relationship.