Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
“I don’t know if he really likes me.”
I was on a train in Sydney and I overheard a young professional discussing intimate details of her latest relationship for everyone in the carriage to hear.
“I think he thinks I’m good in bed. We’ve been dating for 10 months now. We have the same interests. We go out a lot but it’s mainly just sleeping together.”
“Do you think he likes me? How can I know? We have a great time: skydiving, restaurants, movies, roses, theme parks. Did you see my last Insta story? But I’ve got no idea if this is going anywhere.”
We were crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The white flurry of sails on the harbour tacking from side to side reflected her conversation: emotions darting everywhere, driven by the wind of insecurity.
“But you are that model couple” her girlfriend replied. I saw her smile. That comment gave her a dopamine hit.
Dopamine is a pleasure chemical produced by your brain. It causes pleasure and makes you want to repeat the experience. Some dopamine hits involve little effort.
I remember when we were dating, Christian brought me one of my favourite chocolate bars each time he saw me. It gave me a dopamine hit. But there came a time when Christian bought me less chocolates and flowers, but more of himself and more understanding, and this started to build deeper joy.
Dopamine is just pleasure. Underneath the spirit is crying out for something that is so, so much more: deep, lasting joy. This is the cry of nearly every patient that Christian sees behind the closed doors of his office.
We all like big dopamine hits over a short period of time, but a long term relationship is smaller dopamine hits over a longer period of time.
Some people think dating is meeting someone and sleeping with them to see if they are good in bed. Others approach it like a job interview or a police interrogation: you put your best foot forward, you are not ready to be real. There is so much fear of rejection and hidden insecurity.
Do you realise how beautiful and unique you actually are? That is what a real relationship is. Showing that unique self. That’s who people fall in love with. Not an avatar.
It’s okay to put your best foot forward…but there comes a time went you want to go deeper.
So what is the answer for you and the young professional on the train? Less big dopamine hits, more real conversations. Time together just being yourself rather than running after fun.
One day you may be ready to
Stop dating and
Start feeling comfortable
One of my favourite times of the day is just sitting side by side on the sofa with Christian while we are both working at our computers. Sounds boring doesn’t it? It’s only a little dopamine hit. But we share these moments often. Small dopamine hits over a long period of time.
I’d like to let you in on a radical secret:
If you find the right person, boring is bliss.
Sound scary? Good. If you are looking for a long term relationship, what you are aiming for is authenticity and, most importantly, feeling incredibly comfortable and at ease with each other.
As the train arrived at my station I reflected on the conversation: how can this be the model couple if she doesn’t even know if he likes her? And why is she asking her friend? She needs to ask him, she needs to get real. There comes a point when you have to let the other person know that you want more. If you haven’t had the “where are we going?” conversation, then you will need to, and be honest in what you say. All the things I heard her talk about: the sex, the theme parks, are large dopamine hits no relationship can sustain. I hope her turbulent emotions can be replaced by safer harbours. To get into a long term relationship you need to get comfortable with smaller dopamine hits over a longer period of time. Less fun, more togetherness, more joy being real.
Slowly let down the mask. Although the world tries to tell you otherwise, love is not skin deep. It is a profound inner joy that brings deep fulfilment and security. Fun is fickle. Being real is a solid foundation for a lasting relationship.
Do you have a list of things you don’t like about your love partner?
I don’t like her ….
He makes me upset when he….
She always …
I love a good list.
Shakespeare wrote a play about people writing lists of likes and dislikes of the people they love. It’s called As You Like It. The pining lover Orlando writes lists of all the things he loves about Rosalind and pins the lists to the trees in The Forest of Arden. Romantic huh?
Then there’s Phoebe, she’s a shepherdess (no gender-neutral pronouns in those times). She’s a lot more down to earth. She compiles a list of the good and bad attributes of the “boy” she has fallen in love with.
Two weeks ago we talked about how unspoken words can gradually erode a relationship. So can unspoken lists. People often play a role in a relationship, second guessing how the other person would like them to act. They play “As You Like It” not “As It Is.” They are not honest.
Because they want to keep the peace
Because they don’t want to hurt their partner
Because “you have always got to be positive”
Or worse, because they compare the happiness level in their own relationship to those in others:
As Orlando says, “O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes!” (As You Like It Act 5, Sc 2)
“I’m leaving you.”
Brandon walked out leaving my friend Alana so shocked she couldn’t even cry.
Yes, it had come out of nowhere.
Yes, she didn’t know why.
One of the most tragic things that can happen in divorce and separation is when a partner just leaves, doesn’t say the unspoken words, doesn’t share his/her list, doesn’t give the other person the opportunity to change. Just says “I’ve had enough!” Enough of what? Not sharing your list of dislikes, of unmet needs, of hurts is unfair. You never gave the relationship a chance.
There is an alternative to a relationship breakdown: nurturing your relationship to improve it. As idealistic as it sounds, this is a realistic consideration.
Do you have the courage to try and make it work?
This is where list sharing is very important. Get out your lists. Your dislikes list and your likes list. Make sure you each have two lists.
Schedule a day or a weekend of deep disclosure. This is very scary, so be careful and gentle. Taking turns and taking time, really listen to the dislikes, hurts and unmet needs over the years. Apologise. Then take turns to listen to how you have helped each other to grow and nourish. Say thank you. You may be surprised how much of an impact you have had on each other over the years. Thank them for letting you know.
It is a difficult assignment which needs much courage and understanding. It presupposes you are committed to going forward. If your relationship is on shaky ground at the moment, postpone the “dislikes” list and share the “likes” only.
I have two lists about Christian, the things I like and the things I don’t like.
As much as I love lists, it has been hard for me to share my lists with Christian: both lists. Pride, embarrassment, fear of hurting, one-up-womanship, all inhibit my list sharing.
We have a small Forest of Arden beyond our back fence. Seasons and time have weathered and changed the lists I pinned on the trees long ago. Some of the dislikes have turned to likes as we have grown closer. Many of the past likes are now superfluous. Some entries have not and will not change. The important thing is that our relationship does not depend on crossing things off the dislike list or adding to the like list. It depends on deep, committed sharing of the hurts, unmet needs and dislikes, and rejoicing in the likes.
A word of caution. If you are going to share your lists … be gentle. Very, very gentle.
“But what if she has just found out she’s pregnant to another guy?” I almost yelled.
Christian shooshed me. We were out on a walk and, as usual, everyone could hear my loud voice.
We have a colleague in the UK that we occasionally skype. He has been in a long-term relationship for 8 years. He suspects his partner is having an affair. He is completely tied up in knots about it. He can’t sleep, can’t eat properly, takes sick days for no reasons. But he can’t ask his girlfriend the simple question: are you sleeping with someone else?
“Why not?” I said exasperated. “Why can’t he ask her? Then he’d know.” Christian led me down a path to a less-crowded area so we could continue talking without stealing the peace.
We like visiting parks and had discovered a lovely Japanese garden. The delicate foliage on the trees, the flowers, the chosen stones were in complete harmony. Nothing was out of place: all was ordered. For all appearances, everything was in agreement. My emotions were far too inflated for a gentle atmosphere such as this. Or was it all gentle and harmonious? What was underneath? I began to reflect on how much silence is observed in nature, but what is hidden underneath? … weeds, debris, dead leaves.
I come from a background where there is much left unspoken. Where people are often “silent” about things that are going on and their partner is just meant to “know.” Marrying Christian changed all of that for me, but that’s another story.
“Not saying things” is another badge of honour in my background just like never arguing. I often hear my friends say “I couldn’t tell him that” or “She wouldn’t understand so I don’t tell her.” I know where this comes from as I have the same struggles myself. But I also know now how liberating it is to say something.
Even if the answer you hear will hurt.
Even if you have unspoken rules in your relationship.
Even if it may lead to an argument.
Even if you may feel exposed.
It’s worth it.
The unspoken in a relationship eats away and erodes your relationship. It feeds the green-eyed monster of jealousy. It creates fantasies in the imagination that grow into huge empires of distrust. It is often a one-way street to despair.
The unspoken breeds loneliness. Shared loneliness.
It may look harmonious on the outside, but it may be a relationship built on sand, not on weathered rock.
Couples may boast that they never argue (they don’t), never have conflicts (they do) and are always polite with each other (they are). The trouble is that their relationship may be falling apart one unspoken word at a time.
Like our colleague.
“Why can’t he just ask her what’s going on?” I repeated.
“I don’t know” Christian replied. He doesn’t have all the answers.
I gazed at all the beauty around me searching for an answer, a way through the mess of people not communicating and the complete bind they find themselves in because of the unspoken and keeping up appearances.
And the devastating consequence can sometimes be the end of a relationship. But there is a way that leads to healing, restoration and a deeper relationship …. to be continued in two weeks
Why am I qualified to talk about men? I’m not. But I’m surrounded by them. At home I have a husband, two sons, a male cat, a male dog that died 2 years ago and a male kookaburra called Harold that visits me nearly every morning on my back deck. At work, all the colleagues in my department, with the exception of a new appointment this year, are male. I loved bringing up boys: visiting building sites, playing pirates and reading Moby Dick. I was happiest when they came home covered in mud. Sounds sexist doesn’t it? It is.
I’m also going to draw heavily on a book Christian has written and his lectures on men’s mental health. Listening to the lectures has given me insights and lots of surprises about what it means to be male.
I’ve learnt enough to know how hard it is for men to be themselves in a world that increasingly seems to say that it’s wrong to be male. I watched this happen to one of my boys: it broke my heart.
OK, so we looked at controversial comments about women last week. This week it’s about men. Let’s get on with it:
Many men have a problem with anger
Men hate failing and particularly hate others seeing them fail
Men are not mind readers
Most men feel that if you take away their work they are a nobody
At work and in sport men know who the top dog is
It’s difficult for many men to trust other males
Men have huge hearts which they are constantly told to suppress
I know these are generalisations. This doesn’t apply to all men, but in his practice and in his lectures these are the ones Christian has found stand out.
Interesting facts: the larger percentage of our readers are male and females now initiate more divorces than males.
Since there is so much I could say about all these comments, I’m going to choose one with practical, immediate application. Let’s tackle the comment about anger in the straight-forward, problem solving way that men do: head on. Dealing with anger is actually all about having your head on: in the right way.
Let me start with an important point: strong emotions in men are not wrong. Women often make that mistake. I did. I couldn’t understand why my sons would listen to hard-hitting metal music, wanted to tackle each other on the football field or wanted to play mortal combat games on the internet.
Strong emotions, tempered by responsible thinking, are assets. Strong emotions help us survive. They teach us. They help us solve problems and are useful in relationships.
Strong emotions are as natural as fierce storms, raging oceans and howling winds. Too much suppressed anger can, however, become uncontrollable. It needs to be dealt with.
Below is the traffic light technique Christian gives his war vets to help them deal with the type of anger that consumes men so much that they do something irrational:
RED: STOP everything you are doing when gripped with a strong emotion
YELLOW: THINK. Tackle it with your head on - think about the emotion you are experiencing and ask yourself: what is safe to do? What is safe to say?
GREEN: GO. Put your safe choice into action when you are in control.
(Taken from Christian’s book Five Steps to Men’s Mental Health 2016: 89)
The traffic light technique is all about tackling strong emotions head on.
The men in my life, especially my three boys, fill my life with so much joy, adventure and passion. They are a constant source of strength, dependability and affection. They fill my love tank. It is not wrong to have the strong emotions that males experience in this complex world. It’s time to let boys encounter strong emotions, and learn how to control them, so that they can grow into men that can handle being men.
Christian wrote a book called “lies of our society” but no one wanted to publish it. Why? There are lots of lies in our society about men. There are many about women. I’ll tackle men in a couple of weeks, but with mother’s day just around the corner, I thought it best to look at pressure on women.
I’m going to make some controversial, un-PC comments. Some may strike a chord in you; others you may disagree with. So hold onto your bourkas.
Women do not like to initiate sex.
Talking for women is what sex is for men: a necessity and a great pleasure.
The female hierarchy at a party is still decided by who is the most attractive in the room.
Women don’t like paying for their own meal (except when there’s an expectation of sex)
Women like to be provided for.
Women are just as controlling as men, but in a different way.
Women often feel they are a failure if they have only a meagre job.
Women feel a failure if they have only been a mother.
Women feel a failure if they haven’t been a mother.
Women do not like mowing lawns.
Not only have I have felt all of these things at some point in my life, but
Christian hears these deep cries, over and over again, from the mouths of the women he treats. Understanding women is a lot more complex than society makes it out to be.
But Christian tells me that the comments above apply a lot less to younger women.
Do they? Really? That’s not what many of my students tell me.
Before you react the way the media would like you to, let me say that there are, of course, many exceptions to the comments above. But…
Why can’t we say these things out loud? Why do they have to be spoken behind closed doors? Sometimes I want to scream them from the top of a mountain. I have met many women that are so in chains to what society wants them to be that they think something is wrong with them. They often lead unfulfilled lives and supress their needs because “you’re not supposed to think like that.”
When I was studying as a mature aged student, one young woman approached me, clearly distressed:
“I think I have some sort of mental illness”
“I’m being pressured into having sex with lots of different men because that’s what you do, but I don’t want to. I just want someone to take care of me. I don’t want a career, I just want to have children. What’s wrong with me?”
So how do we stop the “that’s what you do” messages that shout at us from billboards, screens and even popular songs?
Be honest with yourself.
Be honest with your partner.
Exploring and authentically living out a true self is a life-long journey. It can be painful and confusing, but enlightening and enjoyable. A good measure of the following is useful: self-reflection, patience, humility, the ability to listen, a sense of humour, and a willingness to learn from mistakes and from successes.
Be real and let the social mask drop down just a little, and watch others do the same. It is not easy negotiating the demands of mutual trust and vulnerability when society bids you keep your mask on thick and tight. If you can, you will enjoy the ride of an authentic self in relationship with others. (unpublished)
A few years ago I attended the wedding of my friend who had been pressured to be someone she wasn’t. As I watched her talking with her husband at the reception dinner I witnessed her deep contentment. She had put on a bit of weight, she laughed more than I had ever remembered and there was a softness in her expression I had never seen before.
I rejoiced for her.
Unlike my friend, I have not yet overcome the pull of this wonderful yet pressure-filled society we live in. In many ways I have been hardened by it, and this saddens me. As a wife, as a mother, as a lecturer I keep, however, striving for authenticity because I know that not only is it the secret to fulfilment for me, but it will help those in my life to also live deeper, fuller lives.
I have a confession to make.
I like to control other people.
If there’s conflict, I go silent. That makes me feel in control. Others have to work hard to get my attention and I can get my way.
I was watching a scene from a play that my students were performing. The couple in the play had just had an argument and the male character was giving his girlfriend “the silent treatment.” The pain that this caused the girlfriend, who tried everything to break through the wall of hostility, was excruciating.
Early in our relationship I used “the silent treatment.” It was my way of handling conflict. I could control and manipulate Christian that way. Christian had a different way: “getting it all out;” arguing. Both these ways of handling conflict are culturally inscribed or learnt behaviour.
Arguing has been given a bad wrap. The silent treatment seems more acceptable, kinder, more “civilized.” (I wince at that word.)
“Getting it all out” during arguing seems more aggressive than “the silent treatment” also known as “the cold shoulder.” But it isn’t.
The silent treatment is a form of cold warfare.
Not talking is just a type of wordless arguing at a distance; emotions are usually still flared up. It is avoiding rather than confronting the conflict. The conflict is, however, still felt. Emotions, thoughts and feelings get suppressed rather than expressed. If you are “not talking” you are still communicating: watching behaviours, body language, looking for signs of diplomatic envoys or olive branches, seeing if things have gone “too far” this time, and so forth.
I watched my students playing this out onstage. The female character looked like she was pleading with a brick wall. I shuddered as I felt the icy coldness of the male character’s aggressive silence.
The silent treatment can make the other person feel terribly alone. Useless.
Silence severs your relationship with your life partner. Although you may feel they somehow deserve it and gloat that you are in control, you keep them at arm’s length, creating a huge chasm that you can fall into. You can be left alone with only your pride to console you.
Aren’t we strange human beings that need control but also need rescuing?
So what can you do?
Use these words:
When you … I feel …
The way I see it is …
What would work for me is …
Every couple has different ways of handling conflict. Some argue it out. Some go silent for a couple of days, then they slowly come back together. They have a kind of silent contract of silence.
I still use the silent treatment at times, I can’t help it. But I am getting better at “getting it all out on the table” while trying to employ heart and humour. Christian is getting better at being less reactive and toning it down.
“The course of true love never does run smooth” (Midsummer Shakespeare)
There will still be arguments and conflicts. The love is in the trying. Keep trying. Keep valuing the greatest asset, the relationship; then perhaps cold shoulders will one day be replaced by warm fuzzies.
It's my birthday today. Oh no, here it is again. That feeling from my childhood; the high expectations that will never be met. We are on a short break near the sea. The glassy water today was luminous and reflective. It mirrored my emotions and made me think back.
I was taught to live from event to event. Being the youngest of five, all my clothes and toys were hand-downs. I was bought my first pair of new jeans when I was 13. Birthdays and Christmas were the only times I received new things. “New” has an allure for me that I haven’t been able to get rid of.
I cry every birthday. Not because I am getting older and not because I don’t get enough presents, but because I have been given a template in my childhood that said “birthdays should be the best day of the year and make you the happiest you have ever been.” I have such high expectations of the day, of those around me, of getting lots of lovely presents that will make me happy. I cry because that conditioning is so strong that no matter how hard I try to not have expectations; I always feel let down.
Christian sees people regularly that have much, much more difficult templates from their childhood: sexual abuse, violence, damaging parenting. Pretty hard to smash those templates.
Parents’ behaviour becomes a template for children’s lives. A model through which they see themselves, express themselves and handle life.
We all have childhood conditioning of some sort that is unhealthy; that we need to work on. Conditioning that hurts those we love, ourselves, or sets our expectations of life and others so high that we are constantly disappointed. This negative conditioning can be so powerful that it wraps chains around our heart that we can’t even see. Identifying it is half the battle.
Christian and I often talk about the conditioning from our childhood that ties us in knots. We can see it in each other. High expectations on birthdays is only the gateway to much bigger issues that spring from my childhood.
When I returned from my walk, Christian noticed my tear-stained eyes.
“What’s wrong my love?”
I just waited.
“Birthday blues huh?” he whispered as he hugged me.
It is soooo good to be known. It heals so much. This is Christian’s real gift to me, and it is enough.
I have always actually had a hard time with the artificiality that occurs when people open birthday presents.
The “Ooh what could it be?”
The “Oh that’s just what I wanted”
The “You always spoil me”
So many packaged responses. We are all made up of very complex emotions aren’t we?
Now I have to confess that I actually love gifts. But…
The best gifts are unrelated to special occasions or saying sorry.
They are given at spontaneous times.
They are often small.
They don’t always have to have monetary value. (Like our gift ideas in our December blog).
In the afternoon I was still feeling let down and a bit empty. We watched the fiery ball of the sun delicately balance on the horizon then slowly lose its grip and disappear beyond the waves. The real gift was sharing this with someone who knows me well and is by my side.
364 days of no expectations stretched out before me.
“We never argue” she said proudly to me.
“We don’t even disagree” he added.
“He brings me flowers every Friday, and has so for 25 years, without fail.”
“Our kids model their relationships on ours”
At this point I was finding it hard to shelve my judgements: really hard.
I was on a plane flying to Melbourne for a conference. I got talking to a couple sitting next to me. They asked me what I did, and the conversation eventually turned to long-term relationships.
After giving me the above description of their relationship the woman smiled at me in triumph. I think she expected me to give her a badge of honour for not arguing.
I had to ask myself: was I staring at perfection here, or was there more to this story?
After some more awkwardness he added, “I’d be in trouble if I ever came home with carnations.”
She gave him a look and whacked him.
You never really know what is going on in another person’s life or relationship.
You never know what’s going on
behind closed doors
behind a façade
behind constant positive talk
behind all the jokes
People can be living very lonely lives…together.
But they may not.
I heard the comparisons that we all make run through my mind:
“They’re so happy. Why aren’t we?”
“Their relationship is full of romance. Why isn’t ours?”
“They’re so close they finish each other’s sentences. Why don’t we?”
Unfortunately, we compare our private worlds with other people’s public display.
Being aware of this very human tendency, however, will help tame the green eyed monster of “comparison” that seeks to steal and destroy your joy.
Perhaps the people sitting next to me had found perfection, but many people like to give the appearance of having a perfect relationship without actually facing the reality of their problems. Or without sharing on a deeper level. They fake it. Sadly, we have known several “perfect” marriages that have ended in divorce
I looked out the window at the beautiful, billowing cloud formations. By all appearances, the couple sitting next to me were living on cloud nine.
So why this obsession with cloud nine?
Over many years of seeing couples, Christian has found that the best long term relationships are those that live on cloud eight, with occasional visits to cloud nine.
Cloud eight isn’t always glamourous, exciting or filled with romance. It isn’t fluffy and white. It doesn’t always have a silver lining. It isn’t perfect.
Fluff, silver and perfection are, however, not the substances needed for long-lasting relationships that can “Look on tempests and never be shaken” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116).
So what is the substance of long-term relationships? Accepting imperfections, toughing it out and making sacrifices. Cloud eight has some grey areas. But these only strengthen the relationship. You can fall through or get your “self” lost in a fluffy cloud, but not in a cloud that has been strengthened and refined through tempestuous times.
As we arrived at the gate in Melbourne and people shoved and hustled their way down the cramped aisle treading on toes and digging their carry-ons into people’s ribs, I heard a faint voice behind me,
“Nice to meet you”
“Lovely to meet you too” I heard myself saying. But I realised it was a disingenuous, polite remark that I gave to people I would never see again.
I watched the couple leave to get their bags in the terminal and wondered if they would talk about the real reason she whacked him. Or perhaps he would never ask, she would wish he would, and they would slip further apart together. Or who knows, maybe they had marriage perfection?
I’ll never know. You never know what is going on in another person’s relationship.
“I am so sick of everything! My work, where we live, how hot it is all the time. I’m not getting any sleep and I’m tired and cranky. I’m …”
Grizzle, grizzle, grizzle.
We were on our usual bushwalk. I was stomping along and gesturing madly with my hands. Occasionally we would pass other people out on walks. They stared at me as if I should be on stage or locked up. I should be – on stage, I mean. No-one ever seems to talk, or gesticulate as much as Christian and I do. Above us cockatoos were screeching out obscenities that suited my mood perfectly.
“And I nearly lost it when she said….”
Whinge, whinge, whinge.
Brits whinge . North Americans gripe. Australians rag on, grizzle, do our block, do our nut, and when it gets too bad we spit the dummy.
“And I’m really worried about….”
Gripe, gripe, gripe.
“I know that I have no right to complain, but … ”
“Wait a minute!” Christian almost yelled.
He had to raise his voice. I had been having such a good complain for the last 20 minutes, and had become so used to the sound of my own voice that I almost forgot he was there.
Why did he stop me then? OK … I must have touched a nerve.
“I hate it when people say that. You have every right to complain.”
Sure we were alone together but, ooh… “hate.” Strong word for Christian.
I knew I was in for one of his delightfully long-winded explanations. The fierce Queensland sun was slowly setting and a gentle wind cooled my heated emotions. We had time.
This is the short version:
When you hold things in, you repress them. Repressed feelings, hurts, troubles, problems and emotions always manifest in some other way in your life:
You become highly-strung.
You get sick.
You get bitter as you age.
Complaining is often called “getting things off your chest,” because that’s where repressed thoughts and feelings sit. They weigh down heavily on you until you can’t breathe anymore.
People have so many shoulds and shouldn’ts in their heads:
“You should be positive all the time.”
“No-one likes a whinger.”
“Always look on the bright side.”
“Some good will come out of this.”
“Others are worse off.”
I was brought up with these sayings. I felt guilty whenever I complained. As if I had no right to do it.
I have since learned otherwise.
It’s OK to complain. It releases built up tension. It’s real. It’s cathartic. It also means that you trust someone else enough to show them what’s really going on inside.
You privilege them by letting them know what’s really going on inside your head. That helps.
It also helps when they just listen.
As we retraced our steps on the way back we saw the flock of cockatoos again. They had alighted on a plain old grey gumtree, transforming it into a mass of white “flowers.” They were no longer screeching. They had had a good whinge and were now perched on the branches, in harmony with each other. Together they happily chewed on the gumnuts making a big mess on the ground.
A deep peace crept over the bush as we slowly walked home.
Question: What "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" were you told as a child? We'd love to hear. Please write it in a comment.
Our cat went missing last week.
He didn’t like the new place he was staying so he went walkabout. I was very upset and spent hours drawing pictures of him and writing “Missing B & W Cat” on signs which I hung all over our old neighbourhood. He’s at least 15 years old and very fat, so I didn’t think he would have gone very far.
I missed him.
Our cat is the best listener I know. I often practice my lectures in front of him.
At times he is so concentrated on what I am doing that he will stop licking his paw and keep it suspended in the air while he stares at me. Our son timed him doing this once: 65 seconds.
At other times he will listen for a while and then curl up in a ball and go to sleep purring, very contented.
I learn a lot about listening from our cat. He is never judgmental or critical.
I wish I could be more like that.
To truly listen, deeply, actively listen to another person, we need to suspend our own judgments and beliefs.
Listening means shelving your beliefs and judgments. I don’t know what my cat believed in, but I never felt judged by him (except when I went to pat the dog).
In listening, you offer the opportunity for the talker to express any opinion, even if it differs from your own. You want them to feel free to do this, or else they will alter what they say, or stop speaking altogether. They don’t want to feel judged or have you disagree with them.
The first step is to let go of judgment comments. My cat did this very well.
Shelving beliefs and judgments is really hard: especially when you feel strongly about them. When Christian is talking about something I disagree with I often have an internal monologue going on:
“Well, that isn’t right”
“Huh! That’s what he thinks”
When I catch myself doing this I try and visualize putting my beliefs in a box, closing it and putting it on a shelf in my mind. Only then can I give him my full concentration. Like my cat’s paw, I need to learn to keep my thoughts suspended and temporarily forget or even care about them.
Shelving your beliefs is different than changing your beliefs. Shelving creates room in your mind and heart to listen deeply with your whole being.
Learning to shelve beliefs and opinions when listening is challenging and takes practice. You may fail often. I do. But because it involves sacrifice, it opens a new space in your relationship for love to thrive.
Someone sent me a text yesterday with a picture of a ragged cat sitting on their back deck.
“Is this your cat?”
He had walked several miles, crossing very busy roads to return to our old home. He hadn’t eaten in four days and was exhausted, and limp, and scared. When we went to get him he ran away at first, but when he heard the sound of my voice he paused. Our very scared cat knew my voice well. He had spent many hours listening to it. This time he also listened to the love underneath.
We bundled him up and took him to a place where he was secure, safe, well-fed and at home.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains an insight into your relationship and how to mend or grow it drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience working in psychiatry. They are told as stories. The central ideas are in bold. All the pictures are originals. We post once a month. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.