Module 3 – Step 7 & 8
We’ve talked a little about deep listening back in Module 2, but let’s address it in a little more detail now. Specifically, let’s address deep listening when it’s most difficult: during
As you must be painfully aware, disagreements can stifle our better actions toward our partner if we let them. A disagreement, in a perfect world, would always be a path to understanding and loving each other better. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes a disagreement becomes an argument or a fight. Sometimes a conversation strikes us the wrong way and balloons into an emotional storm.
And you know what? That’s okay.
Feeling strong emotions isn’t bad or wrong or something you have to eradicate. Strong emotions like anger and protectiveness and gratitude and adoration can be good! Anger can give us strength, protectiveness can give us courage, gratitude can give us humility, adoration can give us warmth. Strong emotions themselves are a normal part of being human. It’s how we act on them that can be harmful. Sometimes, it’s even best not to act on them – at least, not right away.
Over years of trial and error, I’ve found that in the midst of a swell of strong emotion, whether anger or adoration, I can’t make the best decisions. I’m working hard to recognize when my emotions are overwhelming me so I can take a step back to let those emotions go. Taking breaks to regroup from emotional conversations is critical for me.
As we’ve touched on previously, strong emotions make positive communication difficult. Here’s the important bit for today’s post; even overwhelming positive emotions like adoration, gratitude, excitement, and so on can get in the way of good communication. Most specifically, any strong emotion inhibits our ability to deeply listen.
In my experience, strong emotions function as blinders; I become so focused on feeling those emotions that I’m barely aware of the people around me. The experience of a strong emotion drowns out my more rational thoughts and observations – if I allow it. Unfortunately, strong emotions by their very nature are hard to see past. And of course, if we can’t see past an emotion, we certainly can’t see our partner very clearly.
So next time you’re experiencing a strong emotion during a conversation with your partner, take a deep breath and identify it. Then let your partner know – especially if you tend to minimize your outward expressions of emotion. Try something simple, like “Hey, I’m feeling angry right now. Let’s take five minutes and then try again. I want to have a clear head while we talk about this.”
In the heat of emotion, you might not want to step away. I struggle with that tendency to dig in my heels. But even if you can’t get yourself to step away, try letting your partner know what you’re feeling. You can practice some deep breathing together, or share a hug, or cuddle up together and listen to your heartbeats. You can even try watching cute puppy videos or laughing over a favorite comedy skit together. Taking a break from the conversation doesn’t have to mean taking a break from each other’s presence.
Now here’s the flip side. Just like it’s crucial to take a conversational break for yourself, it’s every bit as important to be mindful of when your partner needs one. Respect their needs when they need a break. I know it can be really, really tempting to charge ahead– like in the middle of a disagreement – but rein that impulse in.
A former partner of mine had this wonderful saying: “We have all the time in the world.” You really do. No matter how important a conversation is, taking a few minutes off won’t be the end of the world. You have all the time you need to figure it out, whatever that it may be. Take your time; you both deserve it.
Now sometimes one of you will need a break but you may not know it. Or vice versa; maybe your partner’s emotions are escalating and you think a break would do them some good. You’ll probably get that idea from their nonverbal cues; make sure you notice any tension in their posture, shortness in speech, changes in their tone or volume.
But if you’re anything like me, someone saying “Hey, you seem like you need a break from this” in the middle of a tense discussion would raise my hackles. So if you do notice that your partner might benefit from a break, I’d recommend not saying so outright, unless you’ve established that you want to be blunt with each other. Instead, try suggesting a discussion break more neutrally. Try “Hey, can we take five minutes off from this topic? It seems like we could use it.” You can even tack on a suggestion for meditating together, or finger painting, or any other activity you both find relaxing.
So what all these suggestions add up to is this: Take discussion breaks as often as you need to continue listening deeply to each other. Take a breather whenever you notice negative communication popping up. More specifically, whenever you feel the mood shifting more adversarial than cooperative.
Sometimes a few minutes is all we need to remind ourselves that this is our beloved teammate.