The Gift of attention​

True listening, total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love. …Yet most couples never truly listen to each other. M. Scott Peck

  1. The ability to listen is the cornerstone of any good relationship. Few people understand what the attachment style of their partner requires of them as a willing listener, so few people feel well listened to by their partner.

  2. Spending time listening and giving your undivided attention to your partner is one of the most caring and loving acts you can offer. Skilled listening requires work, effort, practice and an awareness of your own process. This is too much for most people to accomplish.

The Discipline of Listening

  1. Requires the ability to concentrate and focus on another, and to put all of our own thoughts on hold. You have to learn to wait your turn.

  2. To stay focused on another person, you must:

    1. Be aware of when you are feeling disempowered, and be willing to sit with that.

    2. Know when your buttons are being pushed, and be able to sit with that.

    3. Recognise your need to interrupt to put the story straight, and just sit with the discomfort of that.

    4. Listen with an open attitude and compassion for the other, reminding yourself that you’re listening to truth with a small ‘t’, not a capital ‘T’ and sit with that.

  3. You can have no credibility with any problem solving or interjection if the talker doesn’t yet feel heard or understood.

Can you sit with all of these when your partner has their buttons pushed?

The Healing Power of Attention

  1. Listening is most powerful when you can engage with your partner’s struggle but without problem-solving, or “doing”. Can you listen with an open and caring heart without rescuing. You will need to enter the energetic world (emotions, story) of the other whilst inviting them to address their own concerns. This will heal, release stress, and enhance an understanding of self for your mate.

  2. People can become more energised, positive and motivated when fully heard. They may even take steps to change their lives without ever voicing an intention to do so.

  3. Fully focusing on another person will inevitably enable them to feel valued. Their experience becomes affirmed when it is listened to non-judgementally and taken seriously by another.

  4. Being accorded our attention reinforces your partner’s sense of personal worth.

  5. Quality time spent with children gives them a sense of being valued and affirmed. When we listen to children, or anyone else for that matter, we are giving them the message that we value their thoughts and their presence. They will then naturally tend to affirm, value, and respect themselves throughout life.

  6. A good listener gets to hear what the other person thinks and values and knows them more deeply.

  7. Chatterboxes who are poor listeners miss out on getting to know others. They may be incapable of, or uncomfortable with, silence. Frequently their need is to be in control. Not only is this tiring for them and others, but it prevents a balanced relationship, and intimacy, from developing.

Learning from Others

  1. The process of listening permits us to become closer to the other person, and become familiar with their inner world.

  2. Those who listen attentively to little children know that “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings” come some amazing and enriching tales. Everyone has a perspective that is valuable for others to hear about.

  3. Lay aside the skewed filter system of your own values, judgement and inner reality and learn about another reality. This is essential to do with those we care about. Their reality may seem bizarre, ill informed, unrealistic to you. We view the world according to our own conditioning – thus, another’s view may be difficult to comprehend.

Listening Accurately

  1. Note how you interpret another’s body language and words. Both verbal and non-verbal language were learned when we were children, and were specific, perhaps unique, to the environment in which we learned them. That dictates how and what we hear as adults.

  2. Watch for your inner button being pushed that can’t cope with and avoids hearing what is said. When you are confronted with something that is just too unpleasant, unsafe, unreasonable or too pressuring to acknowledge, you may struggle to hear or understand it.

  3. When confronted with communication impasses of this sort, you may condemn, threaten, educate, ignore or demean another for their inadequacies. You will recognise all these strategies as being attempts to protect your sense of self and avoid the task of acknowledging parts of self you may not want to own.

Listen Actively

  1. Essential skills of listening include being real, being open and transparent, caring and demonstrating a non-possessive love, and allowing yourself to experience the inner world of your partner or child by feeling as much as possible the feelings they are experiencing.

  2. Rogers’ research showed that the integrity and genuineness of the listener was as important for healing as any clinical skills they possessed.

  3. Listen to feelings, and reflect these back, especially for connectors who usually want their feelings heard and validated. Feelings/emotions will tell more about a person than a thousand of their words. For those with an anxious/avoidant or ambivalent attachment style, listening to feelings is pivotal. It helps if the person listened to also speaks their feelings/emotions so that they are more easily understood.

Responses to an emotionally charged connector or pursuer could sound like:

“It sounds as though you are feeling upset, bothered. Is that right?” or

“You look upset. What’s going on for you?” or

“I’m not sure what is going on for you right now, but I wondered if you wanted to talk about it?”

Notice that there is no need to come up with solutions, or react as if the emotion being expressed implies criticism. Even if it did, it is still not the listener’s problem. We are not responsible for the feelings of others unless we’ve been abusive, controlling, or triggered a fight/flight response.

  1. Those with an anxious, anxious/avoidant or ambivalent attachment styles also like to process their inner worlds by talking things out. This can be challenging for those who are avoidant or dismissive and who process issues by thinking them through, because talking is not their preferred way of de-stressing. However, it is crucial they give attention and time to their more emotional partners who must talk things out to restore inner balance.

  2. When it comes to your turn to speak, do so for and about yourself. If you talk about what your partner says, thinks, wants or how they behave, they may get defensive, and feel judged. Talk about your own experience of the situation.

Eg “You get controlling when you get angry” (Unhelpful)
“I can feel controlled and close down if you get worked up too much.” (Less triggering).

Eg “Whenever we talk, you just get angry.” (Unhelpful)
“I struggle to cope with anger, and find it easiest if I just back off.” (More owning).

Eg “You’re just not reasonable, and have these crazy emotional reactions.” (Triggering)
“I find it difficult to talk with you if you’re very emotional.” (More constructive, less judgemental).

The Consequences Of Good Listening

  1. It will help you to explore your own values and attitudes, and reflect on what you want for ourselves. Good listening is a pre-requisite for a good relationship, because it is the glue that holds a relationship together.

  2. Listening to others will increase their awareness of self, and help them get stuff off their chest. They will value and accept themselves more, much as their listener has valued and accepted them. Acceptance is a pre-cursor to positive change.

  3. Instead of being focused on what others think, the person listened to becomes more attentive to their own views and values, less black and white, and more flexible. Those with an anxious or anxious/avoidant attachment styles, if heard well, will then be able to sort their own ideas and come up with their own solutions to their own problems.

  4. Those with an avoidant insecure attachment style do most of their sorting in their own heads, so usually have less of a need to talk or be heard. They are likely to be more appreciative of having their conclusions, plans or solutions to problems heard and validated by their mate.

Intimacy

  1. In order for intimacy to develop, trust must be present. This requires acceptance, openness, and a willingness to be vulnerable. The anxious or anxious/avoidant style will struggle to be intimate without first feeling heard and understood, and having a partner that takes them seriously.

  2. If either partner feels controlled, or is being controlling, a power imbalance exists. Such a situation is threatening to intimacy, openness and honesty and will breed distrust and unsafety. Whenever such trust and safety has been lost, caring for the other will have been replaced by a preoccupation with one’s own safety.

  3. For intimacy to be present, there must be a balance of power, and preferably a willingness on the part of each to nurture and affirm the inner power of the other. This includes:

    1. the freedom to choose,

    2. the ability to be assertive,

    3. the courage to take risks on one’s own behalf,

    4. the ability to acknowledge feeling weak, confused, vulnerable,

    5. and the ability to acknowledge we are wrong without feeling we will be judged as a result.

  4. By fully hearing others and acknowledging their feelings and thoughts, we can assist them to heal hurts and scars from childhood. Some would argue that this is in fact the purpose of a relationship, but instead, because of poor listening, childhood hurts are often revisited and exacerbated in relationship, and so each party reacts emotionally as they learned to do as a child.

  5. Reciprocal empathy and reciprocal valuing and listening to the other is a pre-requisite for an intimate – and in fact a successful – relationship. Both must bring a balance of talking about oneself and fully listening to the other for this to be possible.