Tag Archive for listen

A Breath of Fresh Ears

I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve communication skills in marriage. Communication skills involve the sharing of ideas. They include the ability to verbalize ideas effectively and to listen more attentively. Learning both these skills will help any relationship, including our marriages, grow stronger. So, when I came across this little communication gem, I had to share it with you. It is a simple, powerful tool to help both the speaker and the listener communicate more effectively. I call it “a breath of fresh ears” (yes, “ears” not “air”).

Many times, communication breaks down because we respond too quickly. We impatiently finish the other person’s sentence, interrupting them in mid-sentence or talking over them before they have finished talking. On the other hand, you’ve probably had times when your spouse left you little to no room to even respond. They go on and on as though in a filibuster for the floor. Conversation becomes almost like a competition to “get a word in edgewise.” In this process, ideas are lost and misunderstandings arise. You and your spouse begin to feel “talked over,” ignored, or unheard. Emotions flare. But, “a breath of fresh ears” can change all this.

What is “a breath of fresh ears”? Before you respond to your spouse, take a breath. That’s it. Pause long enough to take a breath. When you do, several things might happen. First, you’ll realize how difficult it is to slow down long enough to take a breath before responding. We live in a frenzied world that has grown uncomfortable with a slower pace that allows for miniscule moments of silence. So, we jump in with what we believe our spouse is saying or respond to get our idea “on the floor.” We are saturated with the self-absorbed mindset of our world and so interrupt our spouse to make sure our “oh-so-important-point” is heard. Taking a “breath of fresh ears” means slowing down. Take a breath. Then speak…which brings me to the second thing you might learn.

Second, you’ll experience times when your spouse starts talking again. You thought they were done but, in the momentary pause of your breath, they decided to tell you more. Humble yourself by putting your agenda aside for a moment and listen some more. As a reward, you will learn more about your spouse. You will find they had more to say and in that moment of silence created by your small breath, were able to formulate a greater understanding of what they really wanted to communicate. Their communication may even become more clear.

Third, you’ll find that the “breath of fresh ears” really does give you fresh ears. In that momentary pause you will find the time to reflect and reconsider your response. You will answer more in tune with your partner. You will answer with greater compassion and wisdom. You will answer in a way that “gives grace to the moment.” And all of that will strengthen rather than hinder your relationship.

Three benefits from “a breath of fresh ears…” oh, and a fourth benefit. “A breath of fresh ears” will create a more relaxed and enjoyable conversation with your spouse. The conversational competition will end as interruptions decrease and everyone is allowed to finish their own thoughts. You and your souse will relax. And, perhaps most important, you will learn more about yourself and your partner. Try it out. Give your conversation “a breath of fresh ears” and enjoy the growing intimacy you will experience.

4 Tips for Communicating with Your Teen

I remember the advice given to me as my children approached their teen years. “Whatever you do, maintain open communications with your teen.” Sure, I thought. Great idea. But, how do you do that? After some research and trial by fire (both my “children” are now in their early twenties) I have a few suggestions, ideas that can help keep those lines of communication open with your teen. I must admit, these ideas were often in opposition to my first impulse, but, when I was able to implement them, they really helped keep those lines of communication open.

  1. When your children or teens come to you with a desire to talk about something, give them your full attention. Put down the paper. Turn off the TV. Don’t check your messages or respond to a text. Don’t google. Just give your them your attention. Look at them and listen. Watch their expressions. Listen to the tone of the voice. Hear what they are saying and understand the emotions behind the words.
  2. Stay calm. They will say things that make you want to jump out of your skin. Don’t do it. At some point they will say something that triggers your core fears. They may even say things that hurt, feel like an attack, or arouse your anger. But, if you want them to continue talking about it and then listen to your response, stay calm. Remember, sometimes our teens just need to think out loud. Let them do it in your earshot. When you overreact, they will shut down. If you stay calm, they are more likely to continue talking, thinking, processing, and even listening.
  3. Listen. When you want to give a suggestion, listen instead. When you want to criticize, listen a little more. When you think you understand, listen to make sure you really do.  Don’t “spray” them with questions. Instead, use your questions wisely and sparingly to gain a greater understanding of what they are saying, what it means to them, and how they think about it. Listen and repeat back to them what you think they are saying until they know you understand. Then you can offer advice. But, even in offering advice, keep your words to a minimum and then…listen.
  4. Show grace. Grace is the willingness to put aside our own agenda to become a present witness to the agenda of our children and teens. Put aside your own fears in order to create a safe haven in which your teen can express themselves without judgment. Put aside your own ego and create a secure sanctuary where your teens can voice their fears and anxieties to someone they know will strive to understand them. Doing so will build a home environment in which they feel comfortable talking to us…and they will talk with us in that environment.

To summarize these 4 tips, I want to share a quote from Kenneth Ginsburg, co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “The parents who know the most and who have the most influence over their child’s academics and behaviors aren’t the ones who ask lots of questions. They are often the ones who are the least reactive and who express warm, unconditional love and support.” Put these tips into action today. They are not easy, but you’ll be glad you did.

A Powerful Way to Improve Your Marriage

A study of 91 couples revealed a surprise about marriage. Understanding your partner was NOT enough to make your marriage stronger and healthier. Just understanding what your partner is thinking and feeling does not lead to a better marriage. Better marriages result when a person not only understand but cares enough to do something with that understanding. Having compassion and a motivation to respond to their partner based on understanding was necessary to have a better marriage. In other words, responsiveness proved more important than mere understanding in strengthening marriages. How do we become responsive?

  • Listen….not just to the words but to the emotions and intentions behind the words. Listen to understand the needs. Listen with a heart of compassion and an eye (or should I say “ear) toward empathy.
  • Respond to their emotion. Acknowledge what they feel.
  • Act upon the need of the moment.

When we are responsive to our partners, they will feel validated and cared for. They recognize their importance in our lives. They feel safe and stable in our relationship. As a result, our marriage improves. So, don’t stop with understanding. Engage in a compassionate response as well. (For more on responsiveness and building intimacy in your marriage read The Music In Your Heart.)

A Powerful Sacred Pause

My friend stood at an ATM machine getting money when someone walked up behind her and began to “grope her.” She was furious. Being an independent strong woman, she turned around and hit him with her purse in one smooth movement. He fell to the ground. She prepared to tell him off when he held up his red and white cane saying, “Wait…I’m blind. I was trying to find the ATM machine.” Now, my friend, being a kind and compassionate woman, suddenly felt guilty for having decked a blind man. She apologized and helped him up. What changed? Her perspective of the situation changed. She went from thinking someone was trying to take advantage of her to thinking someone was in need due to physical challenges. How many times does this happen in marriage (perhaps to a lesser extent and with no physical attacks I mean)?

  • You walk into the house and say “hi” to your spouse. He ignores you. As your irritation swell up and you get ready to yell, you realize he is on the phone. He looks your direction and smiles as he mouths, “I love you.” In a moment, your realization meets his smile and your irritation turns to joy.
  • You and your spouse are having a discussion in the kitchen while you cook dinner. As you look at the pan stirring noodles, you hear your spouse say, “That was stupid.”   Thinking you were called “stupid,” you look up to complain. Your spouse is standing over a jar of spaghetti sauce with sauce dripping down her shirt. She smiles, “I forgot it was already opened.” Anger turns to laughter. 
  • You walk into the kitchen to find the sink full of dishes. Frustrated, you begin to rinse them and slam them into the dishwasher. When your spouse walks into the room you say sarcastically, “Thanks for cleaning the kitchen.” Your spouse apologizes and explains that the children have been sick and throwing up all day. You notice the stain of vomit on her shirt. Anger becomes compassion as you give her a hug.

In each situation the only thing that changed was the perspective of the situation. Sometimes we need to take a breath before reacting. We need to take a sacred pause, to slow down and practice a little patience before we explode. The sacred pause allows us look to our spouse and ask a few questions, find out more about the situation, and learn more about what’s happening from their point of view. That sacred pause, that moment of patience, can turn anger into compassion or frustration into joy. That sacred pause can save your marriage.

Connecting with Your Teen

One of the most important (and at times challenging) aspects of parenting a teen involves maintaining a strong connection with them. They have activities and friends that suck up their time. They work to solidify their identity by developing their own lives. But research continues to show teens want a relationship with their parents. They still desire input and guidance from their parents. That desire is strongest when they have the positive connection with their parent that they desire. So, how can you keep a strong connection with your teen? Here are 6 ideas.

  • Eat with your teen. I’ve always heard it said that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Well, it’s true for teens as well. If you want a strong connection with your teen, eat with them. Have meals together as often as you can (A Special Ingredient for Happy Families). Keep snacks in the house so you can offer to share a snack while you talk. Sharing food seems to open the heart. So, enjoy a meal, share a snack, and converse with your teen.
  • Have fun with your teen. You don’t have to have serious conversations and interactions every time. In fact, enjoy as many fun interactions as possible with your teen. Go out just for fun. Enjoy a game. Go to a movie. Go for a bike ride. Let your teen pick an activity to enjoy with you. That might mean engaging in an activity you don’t currently enjoy; but, go ahead and give it a try. It will deepen the connection between you and your teen. (For more read Turn Up the Tunes and A Solid Hint from Icelandic Teens)
  • Pick your battles. Some battles just aren’t worth the struggle and the potential disconnection they create. Hair always grows back. Clothes styles change (within modest reason). Makeup washes off. Save your energy for those issues that represent danger to your teen’s health or reputation…issues that genuinely impact your teen’s well-being.
  • Talk with your teen. Along with choosing your battles, take time to talk with your teen. Talk about topics they find interesting. Use those opportunities to learn how they think. Ask them about their day. Talk about their favorite past-times. Don’t be afraid to talk about the serious issues like drugs or sex. Our teens want to learn about our views on such topics. So keep them talking with you (Are You Teaching Your Teen Not to Talk with You?) They need the opportunity to debate and think through their values in discussion with someone more knowledgeable and mature. Give them that chance with you. Stay calm during the discussion and, while talking, be sure to take a lot of time to listen…which brings us to the next point of connection.
  • Listen to your teen. Hear your teen out. Listen intently to understand. When they have a different opinion than you, listen for the valid points in their opinion. After all, they don’t have to agree with us on everything. If they get in trouble at school, hear their explanation before taking sides.  When you listen intently to your teen, you maintain a stronger connection and increase the chance they will listen more intently to you. (Learn the Gracious Art of Listening.)
  • Recognize and acknowledge positive aspects in your teen. Teens crave acceptance and respect. Let them experience your acceptance and respect by acknowledging their effort. Thank them for helping around the house. Celebrate milestones. Acknowledge their interests and unique talents. Doing so communicates acceptance of their efforts and respect for their interests. 

Teens want to connect with their parents. When you practice these 6 tips, they will more likely connect with you. They’ll be glad to have a parent who connects with them. And you’ll be thrilled to have a teen who connects with you!

A Gift to Improve Your Marriage

Are you looking for the perfect gift for your spouse? I have an idea, a gift your spouse will love. The great thing about this gift? You can give it to your spouse over and over all year round without breaking the bank AND without your spouse getting tired of getting the “same old thing” again. They’ll love it every time. You can even “wrap it” up in four different parts so it will look like you gave more!  Even more impressive, research has shown this gift will improve your marriage. A study involving 114 newlywed couples revealed that this gift led to the experience of more positive emotions in the marriage and a higher level of relationship satisfaction. Really, it sounds too good to be true, but I’ve seen it in action. It’s true! So, forget the wrapping paper. Don’t worry about the packaging. Just give your spouse this gift in four parts. What is this miracle gift you can give your spouse? Emotional support! And the four parts of emotional support you can give your spouse to make it look like even more? Listen and show empathy. Express trust in your spouse. Let your actions reveal your willingness to care for your spouse. Communicate acceptance of your spouse even when they’re at their worst (part 4). Yes, your spouse will love the gift of emotional support…and your marriage will, too.

The Way You Say the Things You Say

Have you heard the old song “The Way You Do The Things You Do”?  (You can listen to the lyrics here.) “The way we do the things we do” obviously communicates love and commitment, fills our spouse and family with joy,  and even brightens their day. But I want to focus on “the way you say the things you say.” Yes, “the way we say the things we say” can make or break our family relationships. Let me give you a few examples.

  • One area in which “the way we say the things we say” can make or break a relationship involves the cadence of our statements. My friend used to ask me about my thanksgiving every year. He would ask, “How was your Thanksgiving, turkey?” Did you notice that comma? That comma, that change in cadence, changed his question completely. He was no longer asking how the thanksgiving turkey tasted; he was calling me a turkey! Consider another statement I heard this weekend. Hungry children sat at the table and said, “Let’s eat grandma!”  Now, that sentence needs a change in cadence, a pause, because what they really meant to say was “Let’s eat, grandma!” As you can see, how we say the things we say makes a huge difference in how our spouse and children understand what we say.
  • Another area in which “the way we say the things we say” makes a difference involves volume. For instance, a whisper works well when we want to say something to our family without the whole world knowing. Sometimes though, we want to make a point. Our children have done something wrong and they need to stop. We begin to yell. But is that best? Probably not. Yelling scrambles our children’s brains. It signals that we are about to lose emotional control. Our children no longer hear what we want them to hear. Instead, they “shut down” or  focus on our immediate actions. They begin to think things like “There goes dad yelling again. I hate when he does that. He’s so rude. He always yells….” They miss the whole point of why we’re yelling.  Instead of yelling, use a firm voice. With a firm voice you are still in control of your emotions. You can turn to another person and speak in a normal conversational tone. Your children may call it yelling, but they are still able to listen. In fact, they are pulled in to listen. They are compelled to listen by the firmness in your voice. Keep your volume at a whisper, indoor conversational volume, or a firm volume when interacting with family. Avoid yelling and screaming…because the “way you say the things you say” does make a difference.
  • Tone of voice also impacts the “way we say the things we say.” Take the question “is she going out with him?” (I thank the same friend who called me a turkey for this example.) Notice how the sentence changes when the emphasis is placed on different words. “Is SHE going out with him?” “Is she going out with HIM?” “Is she GOING OUT with him?”  Each one says something slightly different and reveals the speaker’s different thoughts about the people involved. Aside from emphasis, you can make the same statement with a contemptuous tone, “Yeah I love you” or a loving tone, “Yeah I love you.” Tone makes all the difference in the world when it comes to “the way you say the things you say.”

Tone, volume, and cadence, “the way you say the things you say,” will endear your family to you or push them away from you. Listen closely and be sure “the way you say the things you say” matches with what you really want to say!

Let the Children Bump!!

Loving parents establish loving limits for their children. It’s true. We need to do it. We set limits for their safety and the safety of others. We develop limits to teach them polite behaviors and mature attitudes that will allow them to find success outside the home. We put limits in place to guide our children toward becoming the best versions of themselves. But, you know what our children do with those limits. They bump up against them. They push the limits. They try to sneak around the limits and undermine the limits. Sometimes they bump so hard against the limits we get angry and frustrated. Don’t get too frustrated though because children bumping up against limits is a great thing, especially when we respond in love. Children bumping up against limits provides great opportunities and benefits. Let me explain.

  • When children bump up against limits they learn how to manage their frustrations. Life will not give them everything they want. They will encounter roadblocks and limits outside the family. Best to learn how to manage the frustration around limits in the loving womb of family rather than the harsh desert of the world. Let them bump…and help them learn how to manage the frustration of bumping a limit in a healthy, mature manner.
  • When children bump up against limits they learn about our true values. They learn long-term character is more important than immediate gratification or temporary wishes. They learn which values we truly find important and will “stick to our guns” for and which we will “give in” on. They learn which values we truly hold dear and which values we are willing to forfeit to avoid the hassle. They learn which values they really need to internalize and which they leave behind as they leave home.
  • When children bump up against our limits we have an opportunity to show our them love by explaining the reasons for the limit. They learn we believe in their ability to understand the reason behind the limit. They learn we respect them enough to explain those reasons to them in a calm manner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we argue with them about the reasons. We simply inform them of the reasons. Then we show our love by standing firm and not budging while they bump up against a good limit.
  • When children bump up against a limit we have an opportunity to show them our love by listening to their outpouring of emotion. We can hear their explanation and simply be with them in their frustration. They will learn we love them enough to understand their frustrations and remain present in their anger. They learn we love them enough to hear them and understand their concerns…which brings me to the next bullet…
  • When children bump up against a limit we learn about our children. As they explain their frustration and “everything wrong with the limit,” we gain insight into our children. We may even find their complaint makes sense. We may even discover a need to modify the limit to better support their safety and growth. We will encounter times when our children’s insight and wisdom will influence us to change the limit…and that shows the depth of our love as well.

When children bump up against limits we have established for their safety and healthy development we can become frustrated. But remember, children bumping up against the limits presents wonderful opportunities to teach and love. Let them bump and find a loving, gracious limit that holds them secure. Let them bump and learn. Let them bump and hold them close.

A Gift You’ll Love to Give

We all love to receive a gift. Even more, we love to give gifts to those we love. Who doesn’t like to see our child’s face glow when they receive a gift from us? Or watch our spouse’s eyes glitter when they receive a special gift? Here is a gift you will love to give. Not only will you spouse and children love to receive this gift but you will experience all kinds of benefits…like more conversations, greater joy, and growing intimacy. What is this gift? The gift of attention!

You can give the gift of attention by listening intently. Listen to their words and listen to their tone of voice. Observe carefully. Observe their body language and their facial expressions.  Observe what excites them and what brings them down. Listen intently and observe carefully so you can understand them deeply.

Then, and only then, begin to speak. But don’t move to fast. Use your first words to confirm your understanding. State what you’ve observation. Repeat what you’ve heard. Listen again as they either confirm your understanding or clarify your understanding.

Now, once you understand and your partner knows you understand, you can respond. This sounds like it will take a long time and sometimes it does…but not always. Take this example:

“It’s a beautiful sunny day,” your wife says looking out the window at the flowers in the back yard.

 

“Yes. It is a sunny day. I like how it shines on the flowers in our backyard,” you reply.

This simple interaction includes the observation that your wife is looking out the window when you talk about the flowers she is looking toward. She knows you listened as you repeat her words back to her–“sunny day.” A simple interaction that gives the gift of attention. With a gift this simple, you can give it away to your spouse and children multiple times a day. It’s almost like Christmas. Merry Attention. Happy Listening.

Married to Burger King?

Remember the old Burger King commercials?  I used to sing their moto, “Have It Your Way…,” such a catchy tune.

Unfortunately, some people think they’re married to Burger King. They want to always “have it their way” in marriage, treating their spouse like Burger King. They want their “Burger King spouse” to accept their way and agree with it, or at least act as though they do. They always believe their way “is right” and will argue their point in an effort to make their “Burger King spouse” toes the line and complies with their way. They do this by insisting on “their way” with vigor and passion, often overwhelming their spouse with their energy. They persist in this persuasion until their “Burger King spouse” accepts their conclusion as the right conclusion. What they don’t admit to themselves is “their Burger King spouse” often does this just to end the conflict and not have to talk about it anymore. As soon as the “Burger King spouse” gives in, a wedge (not a pickle wedge or a lettuce wedge but a solid, distancing wedge) is forced between them. That wedge will grow and fester, hindering intimacy and even leading to more conflict in the future.

“Having it your way” doesn’t work in marriage because none of us are married to Burger King. (Well, accept maybe Mrs. Burger King.)  Our spouse has their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Maybe you “hold the lettuce” and she piles it on…or you “hold the pickles” while he asks for extra pickles. More significantly, maybe she wants a minivan and you want an SUV…or you want to spend some money on a few weekend vacations each year, but he wants to skip the weekend getaways and save all the money for retirement. I won’t list possible differences you and your spouse may hold. I’m sure you can think of a few on your own. The point is, when we insist on always being right, when we demand to “have it our way,” we push our spouse away. In the words of a more marriage friendly moto, “You can be right…or you can be in relationship.” “Being in relationship” requires that we accept our spouse’s point of view as valid, just like our point of view. It means we don’t demand to “have it our way,” but honor our differences by listening and compromising instead.  It means having the grace to “have it their way” now and again instead of “our way.” In short, you’re not married to Burger King so don’t expect to “have it your way” all the time.  Learn to listen, compromise, and turn toward one another in discovering a third alternative that can satisfy each of you. After all, isn’t it more important to have a satisfying marriage than to “have it your way.”

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