Picture a couple falling in love, listening to each other with their whole bodies, hanging on each other’s every word and asking questions in an effort to go deeper. This is more than just hearing; it is active and intentional, and allows two people to come together.
This is the listening we’ve shut ourselves off from. And we need it, urgently.
Listening starts at home, where we build the practice in our foundational relationships to foster lifelong health, well being, and harmony in every part of society.
In this blog series we’re sharing practices from our research-based Family Nurture Care approach, which focuses on strengthening emotional connection through seven connecting activities. Today we will focus on listening.
In times of stress and separation, many of us find safety in superficial communication. We avoid sharing our deepest feelings because we fear they won’t be handled with care. At the same time, we don’t offer to listen, fearing the responsibility of holding someone else’s emotions, or what their feelings might mean about us. In our aloneness, we’re nitpicking, criticizing, lashing out, and clinging to the structures that we think keep us from falling apart.
It is important to remember that anger often camouflages our more vulnerable feelings of hurt and fear. We are dealing with heavy feelings right now, and talking about them with someone we love, and feeling heard, can alleviate stressors in an immediate and profound way. This is a practice for lifelong resilience, but it’s especially important in crisis.
Today’s tip: Listening to connect
- Carve out time to have a meaningful conversation with someone you love, whether in person or over video chat.
- If you’re struggling to find a topic but want to connect through listening, tell each other the story of your relationship.
- Over time, it’s important to practice being both a sender and a receiver. When someone is communicating hurt or fear, it’s important to focus on listening.
- Be curious. Ask questions to help each other go deeper and clarify meaning.
- Validate each other’s feelings, without defensiveness or accusations.
- Apologize for misunderstandings and rifts. This takes practice, but it’s worth it.
- Be present with your whole body: how is your heart reacting? Your gut? If talking over video chat, avoid looking at your own face. What is their face saying that their words are not?
- Try to involve your senses. Listen to the impulse to touch hands while talking and listening.
- Remind yourself throughout the day to listen to the verbal and non-verbal messages you are sending each other.
Listening is a gift that lets us know we are worthy of attention. When we listen, we can calm one another—and when we’re calm, we can deal with our stressors better, making it possible to sustainably contribute to the changes our society desperately needs. Emotional connection allows us to take the first step towards empathy and cooperation: putting what we’ve heard into words and actions. Next, we’ll look at the other half of listening: talking about our feelings.
Let’s take care of each other,
Martha G. Welch, MD, DFAPA
Director, Columbia Nurture Science Program