It takes 72 muscles to speak. Of course this is not counting those who are gesticulators, pokers and overly dramatic. That is pretty impressive and when you pair that with the brain activity that it takes to create speech, then you are talking a mission more complicated than getting pre-schoolers to go to the bathroom. Even with all that, listening is still the biggest accomplishment of human-kind. The miracle of hearing begins with the outside of the ear capturing sound waves and funneling them through to the three tiniest bones of our bodies vibrating and sending the message to our brains to decipher the sounds, piece together words, then phrases, then sentences. But all of this process is left in the dust when we try to interpret what those words mean. Why did they use those words? Why did they say it like that?
Lee says: We have spoken about the conversations in our heads before. These are particularly loud when we are speaking with our partners. ‘Why did he say that?’ ‘What did that mean?’ ‘Oh God, this is going to be bad…’ are just a few things our little inner worry-wart says while we should be actively listening. It’s a wonder any couple makes it. With all the chatter we provide in our heads it is a wonder we can hear anything.
Our word filters catch certain vocabulary and make sure to distort and twist it so that we can maintain a sort of poor self esteem homeostasis. For example, your partner says ‘I love you’ and you hear ‘I pity you’. Your partner says ‘Honey, you are so beautiful’ and you hear ‘If you lost a few pounds you might look O.K.’. You know I’m right! This is why you respond to these beautiful statements with ‘sure’ and ‘yeah right, you’re blind.’
Your partner speaks what is true for them and you discount and misinterpret and distort the final product to the point that it sounds like a pop star after the sound engineers have done their magic. Any evidence to the contrary regarding our personal beliefs about ourselves is met with denial, confusion and negation. We may as well call our partners liars because that is in essence what we believe. We are of the mind set ‘if you only knew me you would never be with me.’ This is virtually universal.
We are programmed to be self-effacing. We are told at an early age it isn’t cool to accept compliments with a ‘thank you, I know.’ That is considered conceited and lacking in humility. In fact, our favorite past-time in this country is watching icons fall. This societal edict of what is proper is so engrained in our psyche that we even feel a little funny when people accept our compliments. ‘Gosh you were great!’ ‘Thanks!’ Our first thought is ‘conceited ass!’ But, if they come back with ‘gee thanks but I sucked today’ is interpreted as ‘what a nice person. So down to earth. Another schlub like me.’ These filters are the root cause to most relationship issues.
As I mentioned on Monday, and they bear repeating, are the tenets of The Four Agreements. However the most important ones for us here are the agreements ‘Do not take things personally’ and ‘Do not assume’. Can you imagine how a relationship would be if you eliminated these two things. I would add for relationships the agreement that when complimented you say ‘Thank you, I know’. It’s good to ring your own bell and bring down those filters. Trust me, you are missing some beautiful sounds.
Paul says: Liar…Liiiiiaaarrrrrr. Yell this like Carol Kane in The Princess Bride and you have the voice in my head. She dresses the same too.
Hey Papa? Can you hear me now? Hello? Parenting in the classical sense does not really account for effective communication unless we are talking about maintaining control with an iron fist. Growing up in the old days meant that there was little communication but lots of orders. It’s no wonder we all grew up to be these hippy tree huggers and the pendulum has swung so hard that now we are letting a child’s feelings rule the home.
Lee says: In my house, Mami was the boss and woe is the child who bucked that. My Mother worked throughout my childhood. She was the owner and manager of a women’s clothing factory that employed over 80 people. That is a lot. She would leave the house before we ever left for school and would come home at 5:00 everyday and would spend the evening doing paper-work or, if she was lucky, zombie out in front of the TV. She didn’t have time for kiddy bullshit. She was a busy lady.
During the summer, when the hot California sun begged us to come out to spend the day in the pool, my Mother would leave us to our own devices at home. During the day, she would call us to check in and usually be ordering us, albeit telephonically, to get out of the pool. However, we figured a few minutes wouldn’t hurt so we would stay in. Few minutes turned to an hour and before we knew it, Mom was home. We would scramble and slip and slide and run to our bathroom in hopes that Mom did not catch a glimpse of our wet, pruney bodies tearing through the house. Before we knew it, we were in the midst of a Nuremburg trial where we were the Nazi’s presumed guilty. She yelled, she may have spanked and, if we were lucky, we were allowed to shower, dress and help with dinner.
In my day, if my Mom would have come home and sat my sister and I down to explain the unhealthy effects of the California sun on our tender, chlorine treated skin I would have said she had been smoking reefer at the factory. In my day, kids had no opinions and talking back was tantamount to pointing a gun. The kid’s today are being taught very differently. We have taken the information of adult esteem issues and decided to rewrite our own traumatic childhood. We have become flower child parents and any show of discipline is a pale shadow of the authoritarian parents we had.
Now, please understand that I listen to my kids and we have long conversations and hug and they hear I love you every day and all those sweet yum-yums. I didn’t get that but they do. The problem comes when we start running our household like a democracy where everyone gets an equal vote. Listening to your child, 100% of the time, results in giving them a say in the household. That’s an awful lot of pressure on a little person and an awful lot of pain for the parent. The boundaries for these kids get a little warped. There has to be a hierarchy in the family. Since our role as parents is to maintain safety, then we are the upper echelon of the hierarchy.
Paul and I run our home as an oligarchy. We retain all power. As Jeannie (17) gets older, she is being allowed to share in some of the authority specifically over her brothers who are significantly younger than her. Now none of this means we do not listen to our children’s needs. We just believe that listening and respecting and regarding and acknowledging your kids is a slippery slope that can lead you to losing control and then neglecting their safety and letting them grow up too fast and then you rely on them for your care. Parenting is a balancing act and the most you can do is your best, period.
One thing you can do for your kids is teach them how to listen. This would save them so much heart ache, headache and worry. Model good listening skills. Don’t take things personally. Keep your word. Do your best and don’t assume. You know, follow the Four Agreements. Get Toltecy with your kids. I doubt the Toltecs needed parenting advice.
Paul says: Just for your information, I am currently adorned in gold and feathers and sitting on a throne. Yes, that is the way I roll.
Papa can you hear me? It is such a poignant moment in Yentl when Babs, with mullet and lackluster makeup, sings the ‘Daddy you don’t get me’ song. It’s the tragedy of most relationships when communication breaks down. We have discussed how to communicate here before, how to say things that resonate and how to use appropriate language but the breakdown can happen on either side. What do we mean? Are you listening?
Lee says: I am a great talker. As a therapist, I have had to learn to get my point across by any means necessary. I watch the client for cues that they understand me and if they seem a little confused, I explain myself again. I also use stories to get my point across. However, there is very little I can do as communicator if the listener is unwilling or unable to understand what I’m saying.
We often neglect the listener in our discussions of effective communication. Since their role is considered passive, we assume that there isn’t much to their job in the dyad. We assume that standing there or sitting there with ears working is all that is necessary to complete the communication cycle. Boy, are we wrong!
Active listening is defined as listening for meaning. When you are actively listening, you are working at understanding, evaluating and interpreting what you see and hear. Active listening takes into account not only the words but the ‘music behind them’. It seeks out the meta-messages, the body language and also compares it with past comments and dialogues. It could be said that being an active listener is even harder than speaking since there are so many more conscious components to this side of communication and the speaker is virtually operating from a sub-conscious and un-conscious state.
Active listening messes up any concept of multi-tasking since it effectually needs every part of your body to accomplish the task. Not only are you operating nearly all of your senses, any form of distraction can ruin the communication. Pesky things such as anger and humiliation can derail active listening. In all cases, taking things personally makes it impossible to participate in communication in general. In other words, when we filter everything said to us through our issues then we will never truly be able to hear what is being said to us.
Most miscommunication comes from an inability to separate what is said from what is heard. Most communication issues come from people unable to hear what is being said when most of us believe it’s the other way around. It’s easier to blame the communicator than the listener since the latter’s process is all internal. Plus, our interpretations will run through our filters as well and we would never ultimately blame our own poor listening habits.
So here is an example of how this works: 22 years ago, Paul and I were engaged. We were driving home one evening and I was off on some rant about how showing emotions was essential. Paul stated ‘I don’t cry. Crying for me would be something I would do if I was going to die.’ Paul then explained that this is why he loved the song ‘Don’t cry out loud’ by Melissa Manchester. Please reserve all judgments on my husband since I have plenty myself.
I found this explanation of unwillingness to tear up and song choice as ridiculous as you did when you read it. I proceeded to start to rant about emotional honesty and how I could never trust someone who couldn’t express themselves fully. Paul, for reasons I could not understand, began to cry. After asking him what happened he said ‘you’re breaking up with me’. I, of course, must warn all readers that unbeknownst to me, I was suffering from raging PMS. I was all ‘I’m not breaking up with you!’ and he was all ‘you said you couldn’t trust someone who…’ and then I was all ‘no, I love you’ and he was all ‘I love you too’ and I was all ‘Melissa Manchester?’ Long story short, the ramblings of a woman under hormonal influence filtered through a guy with low self esteem and a penchant for sappy awful music is a recipe for a great story. In closing, sorry for the crazy PMS, honey. Oh, and, that song SUCKS!
Paul says: What? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.
Another week is over and the weekend lies before us like a drunken whore ready to be taken. Too much simile? We are looking forward to this weekend. We had planned a little romantic getaway and were sidelined by a little cold and a million loads of laundry (thanks to Sun Detergent for making it easier to keep our monkeys smelling nice). At this point, regardless of sniffles, we are getting away. Before we take off we need to wrap up relationship week.
Paul says: This week we have been giving you the rules to a happy relationship. The only problem is that I don’t really do rules. If rules are made to be broken, then I am the Kurt Angle of regulations or restraining orders. Not only will I break them, I will kick them when they are down and maybe gouge their eyes a little. So let’s say that we are giving guidelines, good ideas, or maybe principles. Yes, I think that I can live with ‘principles’ without going into a Hulk-like berserker rage and smashing something.
So today we are ending the week with the first and oldest principle of relationship health:
Communicate…in a healthy, effective manner that is respectful of your partner’s state of mind and knowledgeable and insightful of all of the life events that have molded you into the person that you are.
You didn’t think that we would stop at saying that you need to communicate, did you? Every person that has gotten past a first kiss knows that communication in a relationship is paramount. But speaking is not enough. What we say and why we say it is more important than the sound waves emitted from our mouths.
Here are a few examples of sentences that, although well communicated, may illicit reactions greater than the stated request:
‘Hey Honey, I’ll be having sex with my girlfriend tonight so don’t wait up.’
‘Stay inside until that guy stops looking in our windows.’
‘You might not want to put your mouth there because I’m flaring up again.’
See what I mean? Sometimes, just saying something is not enough so we have added a few corollaries to the communication principle. First we added ‘healthy and effective’. Since we see marriage as a corporation then contract law apply. One of the basics of contract law is that you can never have a contract that asks one party to break the law. Likewise, you can’t have communication that asks one of the partners to be unhealthy. So healthy communication presupposed that you have your healthy person hat on and so does your partner. If you are feeling particularly crazy at that moment, go take your meds, sit down and wait it out.
The idea of effective communication is pretty self directing. Make sure your partner is getting what you are saying. Therefore, don’t discuss life goals when the other person is covered in baby vomit. I’m a fan of making an appointment to discuss the big issues of life.
Now for the more esoteric parts of the communication principle: respectful of your partner’s state of mind. Whether you have been with your partner for 5 minutes or 50 years, you know something about them. Like me, Lee does not take well to being told what to do. Well, yesterday I told Lee that she SHOULD do something. If you read last week’s stuff, you know that the s-word is bad. The thing is that I was not doing a really bad should. I wasn’t standing over her, with finger waving, and scolding her. It was said in the same vein as ‘it’s probably a good idea’. But I knew better and it slipped out. Of course, she reacted. Is it bad that I said it? Do I need to walk on egg shells around Lee? No. That’s not the point. Being respectful does not mean being fearful but, if you are going to throw a shit bomb then be prepared with the love, the nurturing, the processing, and the shoulder for crying.
Which brings us to the last part: be knowledgeable and insightful of all of the life events that have molded you into the person that you are. If your wife is sounding too much like mom, if hubby is triggering daddy issues, it is imperative that you see that and acknowledge it.
Now I’m not going to say any more on that because that is really what CoupleDumb is all about. Deal with yourself and everything else will come into line.
Lee says: I still owe him a spanking for that ‘shoulding’ but I think he might lose the lesson.