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Listening with Love

Super important in loving any human being is knowing how to listen with love.  For many people good, attentive, tuned in, caring listening is crucial for them to feel loved.  Someone listening to them with love gives them strong personal affirmation, a sense of being valued, and knowledge that they have some special importance to another.  Someone listening with love can give both the talker and a listener a sense of greater connection, deeper mutual involvement and synergy.  Not being listened to with love fairly frequently can be quite destructive to almost any love relationship.  This proves true for a great many types of human love relationships starting with newborns and extending right through to golden-agers.  Even infants respond more healthfully when being listened to lovingly, like hearing the noises infants make and repeating those noises back to them.  Our children, our friends, our family, our life partners and even ourselves all can benefit from us learning and practicing the skills of listening with love.

Just how does one go about listening with love?  Let me go over the basics of how you can learn and go about this love skill.  You begin by noticing that a loved one is talking or at least is making some kind of noise.  Then start listening with your eyes.  That means watch their facial expressions and body language as you also attend to their tones of voice and the words they’re saying.  Be aware of gesture and posture changes because those are part of a loved one’s total message.  All these are important parts of the way a loved one may be communicating to you.  Be sure to remember that the expressional, or the  nonverbal message is often more important than the verbal message.  Next, I suggest, you center yourself in love.  That is accomplished by a very brief sort of affirmative self talk exercise.  Purposefully say to yourself something like, “My loved one is talking or trying to express something, possibly important to them.  Because my love one is important to me I will listen attentively and lovingly to this person I love and to what they say.  I will center myself in love for this person I love, and listen with love.”  After practicing this enough times you can shorten your self talk, and then later come to do it automatically.

Now think about listening to ‘the person’ more than to their subject matter.  A saying you might want to put deeply into your consciousness is ‘the head hears the thought, but the heart hears the person’.  Your loved one may be talking about a subject you have little or no interest in.  That does not matter.  If it’s important to your loved one tune in because the person you love along with all their messages are best treated as of value.  The way they are talking to you shows you who they are personally at that moment.  They are sharing themselves with you by way of one kind of subject matter or another.  The important thing here is that a loved one is sharing themselves.  Receive their sharing.  Whatever the topic is they may be excited about it, worried about it, distracted by it, stimulated by it, mad about it, joyful about it, even bored with it, or any number of other feeling filled emotional states.  They would not be talking about it if they did not have some kind of feeling connected to it.  The feelings a loved one is having about their topic tells you about your loved one.  It also tell you about a topic, but the topic is almost always secondary to the person.  Tune in to the person.  Especially check out the emotions your loved one is exhibiting.

Emotional intercourse occurs by listening for the emotions your loved one is experiencing and then harmonizing with them empathetically. This is especially important if your loved one is showing moderate to strong emotions.  In many love relationships nothing is as significant as the emotional intercourse that happens in the relationship.  Listen and look to see if your loved one is glad, sad, mad, fearful, puzzled, excited, sexy, intrigued, bored or what?  Then sort of do their feelings with them.

It’s especially important to tune in to a loved one when they are demonstrating any degree of difficult to experience emotions such as sorrow, fear, shame, anger, etc..  It’s just as important to tune in to, and joining with good emotions.  Serenity, ecstasy, amusement, joy, affection, the elation of victory and a host of other positive feelings shared with a loved one are very bonding.  If a loved one is personally against something, or for something, its best to exhibit emotions that kind of go along with being against or for whatever they are against or for at the time they are experiencing their emotions.  Remember you’re on their team.  To help ‘team’ love and team functioning cheer for your fellow team member and show you’re on their side.  Right at the moment strong emotions are being exhibited it doesn’t matter much what you ‘think’, it matters what you ‘feel’ and share with your loved one.  Unless a loved one is really pressing you for information, ideas, opinions, etc. (which they usually are not at the moment they’re exhibiting moderate to strong emotions) save your opinions for a bit later.  Reasoning, figuring, and what we usually call thinking-type talk can come after the expression of these emotions, if it’s needed.

There are some things to watch out for.  If you are listening to a loved one more from logic than love you may be headed for trouble.  When listening with love to a loved one avoid playing devil’s advocate.  A love relationship is very personal so expect what you say to be taken personally, even if it was meant in general terms.  When listening with love to a loved one who hurts, or is in any way upset, it is usually best to avoid offering advice, giving solutions, analysis or anything that gets in the way of showing that you are emotionally with the person you love.  It also is very important to stay in ‘the here and now’ when doing good love listening.  Cognitively the way you can do that is by talking in the present tense.  Emotionally you can do that by exhibiting care and/or the same feelings, or corresponding feelings to the ones your loved one is expressing.  Don’t go off into the past, or the future or any other place.  Stay in the now.  With an upset loved one your love is what is wanted much more than your cognitive thinking about what happened, or what would be best to happen, or any mental analysis.  Unless a loved one really wants your ideas about the future or the past, and they very strongly request it — don’t go there.  Advice, solutions, etc. are about the future and analysis usually concerns the past.  Stay with the person in the present.  If you go to the future or the past they subconsciously may feel somewhat vaguely abandoned and, therefore, not really cared about.

Here’s a simple model for understanding how to lovingly listen to an upset loved one.  Your upset loved one cathartically pours out their bad feelings while you pour in loving care.  You do this with attentive, loving, facial expressions, leaning forward — not away, making gestures that show openness and receptivity, occasionally nodding to show that you are emotionally with your loved one and that you are not being judgmental, condemning or argumentative. Then you say some words in tones of voice that can be heard as lovingly caring — but not too many words.  Adding loving touch usually helps too.  Your loved one, in effect, vomits out the toxic material within them and replaces it with your incoming, nourishing, healing and empowering love.  It’s kind of like putting gas in somebody’s empty tank, where as, giving unasked for advice, solutions, etc. is kind of like instructing them on where you think they should travel.  Be careful of questions your loved one might ask during their emotional discourse.  Those questions actually may be statements disguised as questions.  You may think they have asked for advice but most upset people are engaged in catharsis not learning.

The next basic part has to do with what your loved one is saying with words.  If you’re really going to listen with love you must try to understand what their words mean.  Just listening for the pauses to insert your own words doesn’t work in these situations, and usually doesn’t work in most authentic verbal interactions. Talking over your loved one, trying to drown them out with your stuff isn’t loving listening either.  Hear and register their words.  Here’s a little trick for doing that.  Everything they say repeat to yourself silently.  If they say “The house was white, the garage was green, and the fence was blue” you say to yourself those same words.  You can reflect this back to your loved one saying, “Wow, the house was white, the garage was green, and the fence was blue” which tells them that you went to the trouble to hear them rather exactly.  If any degree of emotions are being expressed don’t add anything else until you really understand what your loved one is trying to convey.  Be careful of summarizing.  You can miss what your loved one is really focusing on when you summarize.  Even when mild and happy emotions are involved quickly changing from your loved one’s topics to your own can be seen as rude and unloving.  If you are listening with love you usually don’t think, or say to yourself, or out loud anything like “You mentioned the white house which reminds me of politics, which makes me want to tell you my most recent political argument with your stupid uncle, and are you going to vote in the next election?”  No, stay tuned in to what your loved one is saying and emoting.  Your stuff can come a bit later.

To listen with love and do an extra good job of it you also can state what you think, or guess your loved one is feeling.  You do not have to get it exactly right but showing that you are attending to their feelings not just their thoughts is important.  Maybe you say something like “You noticed the house was white; I think maybe you liked it because you smiled.  You might have disliked the green garage because I saw a little frown, and I’m puzzled as to how you feel about the blue fence”.  If you really reflect back to them their thoughts and feelings you might hear a remark about what a good listener you are and how loved they feel.  If it’s really important to you to get some of your thinking, knowledge, ideas, etc. said then you might ask your loved one to sort of trade places with you while you talk and they listen.

Interruptions are another thing to be careful about.  There are good and bad interruptions when it comes to listening with love.  The research shows that loving and positive interruptions are additive to what the loved one is saying.  Destructive and anti-loving interruptions are subtractive.  If your loved one says “I liked the white house” and you say, “And didn’t its blue door really look attractive with the white walls?” you have perhaps been additive.  However, if you say, “But the yard was really a mess, and the people who live there are really awful” you have probably been subtractive, taking away from the emotional tone of your loved one’s appreciative statement.  High-loving,  functional couples often are fairly interruptive of one another but they interrupt in an additive way that shows they’re really ‘on the same wave length’.  Low functioning couples are the most interruptive and usually in a very subtractive manner.  Interestingly midrange loving functional couples and families tend to be better at taking turns and seldom interrupt each other.

Naturally if you’re really working on loving listening you don’t say much.  You mostly listen.  However, while you’re listening your face ‘talks’, as do your gestures and your body posture.  Changing expressions on your face can convey “I am interested in you and what you are saying”, “I’m feeling what you are feeling, or something like it and I am truly caring about what you’re feeling”.  Leaning forward with open arms and legs can send a message of “I’m lovingly coming to be with you emotionally”.  Openhanded gestures, spreading arms that show welcoming, an angled head that shows interest, and the avoidance of postures and gestures which can look judgmental, condemning, repulsed, indifferent or bored all help get the message of loving listening across.

Now, you don’t have to do loving listening all the time, just enough of the time to help your loved ones know they are frequently really heard and are important to you.  Some people use a ‘once a day rule’.  Listening with love is a form of affirmational love.  It demonstrates that a loved one is, indeed, of high-value and importance to you.  Not listening with love conveys an opposite message.

Do you listen to yourself with love.  Doing good listening to what goes on inside you in both thoughts and feelings, and not being critical or condemning toward yourself is an especially good, healthy, self-love practice.  So, be sure you add yourself to your list of loved ones you will listen to with love.

Well, those are the basics.  There’s lots more you can learn to do and practice which will sophisticate and improve your listing with love skills, and be assured those skills are likely to come in handy with surprising frequency.  Now, let me suggest — go practice!

As always — Grow in love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

♥  Love Success Question
At least half the time when you are with a loved one are you truly listening more than you are talking?  Are you aware that one test of listening with love is to be able to say back to a loved one exactly what they said along with a pretty good estimate of what they might have been feeling while they said it?

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