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The Power of Our Listening

Taken from:
Saanich News May 11, 2005

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Famliy Counsellor

In relationships there may be nothing more important to master than how we interact with one another when we have our upsets, differences, our grievances.

So often our “personal reactions” take over and whether we become aggressive, upset or defensive, or passive, avoid or withdraw, these reactions cause much mischief between us and our partner.

Last column we explored a new possible way to be in the face of conflict I called “being responsible”. It is a way in which we relate to moments of being upset as a call upon ourselves for a personal correction within.

By exploring, questioning, and challenging what we are saying to ourself, what we believe to be true, that is causing our upset, we can look after our own internal state of well being.

In this column I’d like to recognize one other way of being with moments of conflict - most particularly, being with moments when your partner is upset with you. That’s the most difficult one to be with isn’t it? When they are upset with us.

What is this way ?

Still. Being still. Quiet. Remaining available, present, non-reactive.

Who can be still when their partner is upset with them?

Not many can. Not without reacting, defending, countering.

But just being still. Being with the other with no opinion, nothing to defend. Being curious, open, committed to listen and to understand. Now that’s unique.

We are so quick to react and defend. It’s as though our survival is at stake. If we feel blamed it seems we are wired up to deny, react, or defend, to the end. Seems everyone has a self image to protect .

Have you noticed when two people are upset together its like two reaction mechanisms going off ? Each wanting to be right, to uphold and strengthen their view of reality.

“ Daaaavid, You just ran the yellow light ! I hate that. ”
“I didn’t “run the light”, I was braking before it turned yellow.”
“Well that was dangerous. And makes me so upset.”
“That was not dangerous.. I looked. The intersection was perfectly clear. You saw.

And then we don’t talk for the next several hours.

This is what it’s like when we quarrel about who has the “correct “ reality.

Further, notice when two people are this way together – NO ONE IS LISTENING !

So many couples tell me how weary and sensitive this makes them . And complain they can’t seem to stop.

So what is needed here?

Listening. Our open and committed listening for the other.

Someone once said “You have two ears and one mouth. Doesn’t that tell you some
thing ? ”

We really don’t appreciate how powerful listening can be in our relationships. How often things can clear up, find release, when listening and understanding are present.

The fact is when we are emotional, feeling things strongly, what we want more than anything else, is to be heard, to say it all, and to be understood. That feels good.

Yet rarely do we listen. Really listen. Because we are very busy in our own head with our own opinions and thoughts about what’s being said. That’s what gets our attention, our reactions about what is being said, not what’s being communicated.

I was impressed with my father the other night. We were having a small family gathering and someone had some difficult things they wanted to say to my dad. And when it would have been so easy to defend himself, justify himself, counter what was being said – he listened. He listened and he worked to try to understand. My dad gave the gift of his listening. And it made all the difference. I was so proud of him.

Here’s a tip for couples. Only have one person upset at a time. If your partner is upset and voicing an opinion or conflict – instead of reacting or defending, see if you can listen. Give yourself to the desire to understand. And reflect the understanding you’ve gained by listening.

I’m told in native communities when they gather in the larger healing circles, the one talking has hold of the “talking stick”. No one interrupts until he has finished, until he has said all he has to say, then he passes the stick to another. That’s listening.

Our listening for one another is powerful. It is the foundation for healing and for intimacy. Listening is an amazing gift we have to give one another.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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