“Why am I the last to find out? I didn’t know my wife was unhappy. She never told me!”
I had to tell him the truth. “Yes, she did, Todd. There were clues. You just weren’t seeing them.”
Beth had grown quiet and distant in his presence. In contrast, she was lively and talkative around her friends. Passion and affection were gone. She constantly seemed sad.
Where did Todd go wrong? Simply put, he didn’t do a good job of listening. Early on, Beth tried to open up and express herself but such attempts were abruptly shot down by his defensiveness. Eventually, she quit trying to be heard. So . . . the slow erosion of a relationship was underway.
Genuine listening is more than mere cerebral activity. Central to listening is the state of the heart and the mind. Are they both open?
Todd treated Beth’s grievances as one would a debate. Determined to defeat her, he aggressively attacked her opinions, concerns and feelings. His goal was to win by convincing her that she was wrong.
Instead, he convinced her that he wasn’t there for her.
When an exchange of thoughts ceases in a relationship, so does the intimate connection.
“You may be a winner when it comes to debates,” I said, “but your style doesn’t keep a marriage intact.” I pointed out that the goal in a relationship is to have two winners.
Downcast, he asked, “How do I get her back?”
“Todd, you must start by narrowing the emotional distance, and you do that by listening to her . . . truly listening to her.”
Listening with the heart.
When that’s occurring, the listener is sincerely engrossed and curious about what the speaker is saying. The speaker doesn’t sense impatience, irritation, judgment or disinterest from the listener. And there’s no fear of being pounced upon.
More than the desire to win her back, I urged Todd to let his love for Beth translate into a yearning to understand her and remove her distresses.
A few sessions later—when I knew Todd was ready—I arranged a session with the two of them. His role was to listen. Leaning forward with warmth emanating from his eyes, he invited her to tell him why she was considering leaving him.
She talked and he listened. She was able to say all that she wanted without being interrupted or attacked. Nervous at first, she steadily began to relax as he remained calm and caring. Beth felt free and safe to express what was on her mind.
I was particularly touched by something Beth said near the end: “When you listen to me it lets me know I matter, and as a result my heart opens up a little wider.”
Signs of progress don’t automatically usher in a fairy-tale ending. It was going to take time for Beth’s heart to trust and feel safe enough to freely open up. But I knew if Todd sincerely dedicated himself to change—and remained consistent with those changes—there was hope.
In the past, Todd had used his intellect to win. To his amazement, he learned that only the heart knows how to win . . . at love. How nice. 🙂
(c) Salee Reese 2016
Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.