Tag Archive for listening

Improve Your Family’s Brain Health

I must be getting older because I’m drawn to a study when it says it there’s “growing evidence” that people can do things to “slow down cognitive aging.” That’s why I looked at this study. The authors looked at the data of 2,171 participants with an average age of 63 years and made an interesting observation about keeping the brain young and promoting brain health. Specifically, they were exploring the impact of having “supportive social interactions that included listening, good advice, love and affection, sufficient contact with people they’re close with, and emotional support” on brain health. They discovered that the greater the availability of one of these “supportive social supports” was associated with cognitive resilience. Cognitive resilience is a measure of the brain’s ability to function better than one would expect for a person’s chronological age. So, which social support helped keep the brain healthy and young? Having someone you can count on to listen when you need to talk. In other words, have a listen ear available is the one social support that helps keep the brain young and healthy. In fact, as early as a person’s 40’s and 50’s the lack of an available listener contributed to a cognitive age 4-years older than those with “high listener availability,” (AKA, an available listening ear).

Why do I bring this up in a blog about family functioning? Cuz family is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to listening. If you want your spouse and your parents to have better brain health-a younger, healthier brain in spite of aging-remain available to listen to them. The simple act of being available to listen can help your spouse and your parent have a healthier brain. Isn’t that a great way to honor your parent and spouse, a wonderful gift to share with them? Listening not only promotes their brain health, but it reveals your love and affection for them as well. As an added benefit, your children will model your behavior. As you listen to your spouse and your parents, they will learn to listen to their future spouse and their parent (YOU!). And, but listening to you, they will promote your brain health. Sounds like a “win-win” to me. The whole family benefits.

To help you give your spouse and parents the full benefit of your listening ear, check out the tips in The Gracious Art of Listening and The Art of Listening Is More Than Responding. Then, after you’ve read the tips, lean in a little, open your ears, open your heart, and listen to promote your family’s brain health.

The Big Things or the Best Things in Small Packages

I’ve heard it said that “big things come in small packages” and that “the best things come in small packages.” When it comes to marital conflict, I agree with both statements.

Sometimes “big things do come in small packages.” Unfortunately, these “small packages” can bring “big things” like dynamite to blow your marriage up. For instance, “small package words” like name-calling can create “big thing problems” and explode in your face. “Small package words” include phrases like “That’s stupid,” “You always burn the toast,” “You’re lazy,” or “You never clean this house.” These “small package words” create “big thing problems” that become a minefield in your marriage.  One wrong step and they explode to release anger that has built up in response to these “small package words.”

“Small package actions” can also cause “big thing problems.” Rolling the eyes, a demeaning laugh, or simply walking away in the middle of a discussion are “small problem actions” that lead to “big thing problems.” It’s true that “big things come in small packages” but those “small packages” can blow your marriage up.

On the other hand, the “best things come in small packages” as well. For instance, “small package words” like “Thank you,” “I love you,” or “You’re the best” are the “best things” to hear. Through such “small packages” we know we are loved, valued, appreciated, and adored…and those are the “best things” we can receive in our marriage.

“Small package actions” can also give us the “best things.” For instance, intentional and patiently listening to our spouse is one of the “best things” we can offer.  Such a “small package” but one that reveals the “best things,” our love and concern.

Another “small package” that gives our spouse the “best things” is a thoughtful response or loving question. “Small package” statements like “Tell me more about that,” “You sound excited (sad, unsure, or whatever emotion fits the context),” or “Can you explain that more so I can understand better?” These short phrases, “small packages” so to speak, express interest and value in the one we love and that’s one of the “best things” we can offer our spouse.

Yes, “big things” and “the best things come in small packages.” Just make sure the “small package” you give to your spouse is one that gives the “best things” you have to give.

What Your Family Needs Now…

What the world, and your family needs now is NOT love, sweet love. No. your family needs a specific type of response from you, especially during these uncertain times. Sure, this response falls under the category of “loving action,” but many (including me) have missed the mark at times. A study published in the Journal of Communication revealed how we can hit the mark, and even the bull’s eye, more often. In this study, the authors recruited 478 married adults who had recently experienced an argument with their spouse. They offered these adults one of six types of supportive while talking to them about their disagreement. These six responses types ranged from low to moderate to high in “person-centeredness.”

Low “person-centered” responses were critical and challenged the person’s feelings… statements like, “Nobody is worth getting so upset about. Stop being so depressed.” Or “I don’t know why you’re so upset. You do the same thing.” 

High “person-centered” responses recognized the person’s feelings and may have even invited them to discuss or explore those feelings… statements like, “Disagreeing with someone you care about is hard. It makes sense you’re upset.” 

Which response elicited the best results? Well, not the low “person-centered” responses. These responses created resistance and anger in the person. They did not help the person manage their emotions or resolve their marital disagreement. In fact, they often led to the person feeling criticized and experiencing more negative emotions.

The high “person-centered” responses led to greater emotional management. The person felt validated and free to discuss their thoughts and feelings. This contributed to a move to resolution. In other words, high “person-centered” responses proved more effective in helping a person resolve marital conflict.

In our families, arguments and disagreements will arise. How you respond to those disagreements can lead to feelings of resistance and anger or to feelings of validation and acceptance. Your response can contribute to escalating disagreement or quicker resolution. The more “person-centered” your response, the more acceptance and validation your family member will feel…and the more quickly you will reach resolution. What would high “person-centered” responses look like?

  • High “person-centered” responses involve listening intently to understand even before speaking.
  • High “person-centered” responses express acceptance. They seek to recognize and validate the emotions and feelings of the other person, your spouse.
  • High “person-centered” responses recognize, respect, and accept your spouse’s experience, even if it seems different than your own.
  • High “person-centered” responses express sympathy, care, and concern for your spouse…even if you do disagree. It communicates that your relationship is more important than your disagreement.

Next time you find yourself in an argument with a family member, do an experiment. Focus on giving high “person-centered” responses. Listen to understand. Communicate acceptance and respect. Validate their emotions and their experience. Express care and concern. See if the resolution comes more quickly, if the intimacy feels more secure, and if you and your family member are more content with the process. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Art of Listening is More Than Responding

Responsive listening is a great start to the art of listening. But it is not art of listening. Responsive listening includes hearing the wishes of another person, considering our own desires, and arriving at a mutual goal, one we can both agree to. We engage in this sort of listening all the time (at least I hope you do). Anything from deciding what to have for dinner to buying a new car to where we go on vacation involves this type of responsive listening. And, this type of listening makes our relationships more congenial and cooperative. It concludes the important business of daily life.  However, it does not build the deep intimacy we long for in marriage.  To build deep intimacy we need to listen for more than mutual goals. We need to listen at a deeper level. We need to engage in the art of attentive listening.

The art of attentive listening moves us toward deeper emotional intimacy. It does not merely exchange information or share in mutual problem-solving. No, the art of attentive listening shares vulnerabilities and draws us together. It involves three things.

  • First, the art of attentive listening demands we set aside our personal agenda (for a time) so we can focus on the other person and what they mean to say. We will not think about our own responses and so satisfy our agenda to sound wise. We will not think about a counter argument to fulfill our agenda of “helping them see things differently.”  We will not even think of a good compromise so we can negotiate an option that satisfies both their agenda and our agenda. We will simply focus on them–their emotion, their intent, their meaning, their agenda.
  • Second, the art of attentive listening requires that we use verbal and nonverbal cues to communicate our attention and understanding. The person who listens attentively responds with facial expressions of understanding and focused attention. They ask questions for further clarification and understanding. They invite further comment with gestures and short verbal cues (“go on,” “really,” “oh my,” “what?”). 
  • Third, the art of attentive listening involves curiosity not judgment. A person truly adept at attentive listening hears more than the words of the speaker. They “hear” the other person’s facial expression, gestures, and body language. And, they do not respond with judgment. They respond with curiosity instead. They express loving curiosity about the other person and the meaning or intent of what they are communicating. They want to know how the topic has impacted that person emotionally and mentally. Those who listen attentively are genuinely curious about the other person and what they have to say.

Of course, we can’t engage in this type of attentive listening all the time. There is a place for responsive listening, compromise, and the completion of daily business. However, marriages can get stuck in a pattern of responsive listening, a pattern of only communicating to carry out the daily business of running a family and home. They become business partners rather than a married couple. To keep a marriage strong, we need the intimacy that we gain only through the art of attentive listening. Give it a try. Take the initiative. Set aside your agenda for an evening and engage in the art of attentive listening toward your spouse. You will be amazed at the intimacy that blossoms from this practice.

When a Shirt is More Than a Shirt

It was old, no doubt. Some looked at it and saw holes and frayed sleeves, my wife included. She saw a rag, something to use while cleaning or, better yet, something to simply throw away. But I saw so much more. I saw comfort. I saw years of companionship (we’d been together since college). I saw an old friend. Yes, it was “just a shirt,” but we had been through a lot together. My wife saw an old, raggedy t-shirt that need thrown out and replaced. I saw a faithful companion to be respected and even cherished. Perhaps I saw too much (you be the judge). I don’t know. No matter. The fact remains, you’ve likely had a similar experience in your marriage—you saw one thing and your spouse saw another. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I don’t know. It’s a matter of opinion. You could get into a drag-down, all-out fight about it; but that only leads to frustration and distance in the relationship. Or, you can preserve the relationship by listening to your spouse and understanding their point of view.

Listen intently to understand the basis of their perspective. Strive to understand the validity of their belief. Dig deep to see the meaning it all holds for them. Their perspective may differ from your perspective because it rests on a foundation of different experiences and slightly different values. It may hold a meaning for your spouse that you had not considered…nor would you ever consider. It is no less true, but obviously different. When you listen, understand, and appreciate your spouse’s point of view, you validate them even as you “agree to disagree.” You draw closer together as a couple. You come to know your spouse better and gain greater intimacy with your spouse. All because you took time to realize that sometimes a “shirt is more than a shirt.”

Of course, I used a somewhat silly example (although I have had to defend a shirt or two during my marriage, have you?). However, the same holds true when it comes to more significant opinions like politics or childrearing practices, the perfect place for vacation or the perfect place to live. In such cases, the stakes are much higher than the stakes inherent in a disagreement over my comfortable and faithful shirt, but the response is similar. You need to listen intently and understand deeply in order to move toward an appreciation of your spouse’s point of view. Only when you understand so well that you can repeat their rationale back to them and they reply by saying, “Yes! Now you understand!” can you begin to find a compromise, a mutual agreement in which both spouses can find satisfaction. 

By the way, I gave up my shirt…over time. My wife allowed me a “grieving period” and bought me a new shirt very similar to the old one. I could wear both, one around the house and the other in public until I was ready to let go of my “faithful friend…oh, the sorrow.”  But she listened. She understood. I listened. I understood. We grew together…and I got a new shirt out of the deal!

Expectations, Skills, & a Happy Marriage

What are your expectations in marriage? If your expectations are unrealistic, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The “lived happily ever after” expectation just doesn’t really work out that well. We all have our down times. Nor does the “you complete me” mentality make for a happy marriage. In the long run, we need to become complete as individuals before we can find true happiness with a marriage partner. (Read “You Complete Me” Kills a Marriage for more.)

On the other hand, having low expectations will also lead to a less satisfying marriage. After all, if a person has low expectations for their marriage, how hard will they work to make their marriage better? A long-term satisfying marriage requires investment. Healthy expectations for your marriage will lead to a greater investment in your marriage. Think of it in terms of money. If I thought hard work would profit me five dollars, I’d only work hard enough for five dollars. However, if believe hard work would lead to a thousand dollars, I’d put in a little more time and effort. Low expectations lead to less investment which leads to a less satisfying marriage.  So, what are healthy expectations for a marriage? Here are a few. After you read them over, consider what you would want to add to the list.  

  • Long-term commitment.
  • Verbal affection.
  • Physical closeness.
  • Honor and respect for one another.
  • Consideration for one another.
  • Quality time together.
  • Acceptance.
  • Honest sharing.
  • Open communication.

A happy marriage takes more than healthy expectations though. A happy, satisfying marriage requires the skills to build those expectations, to create an environment in which those expectations might become reality. In other words, a happy marriage requires the relationship skills and problem-solving skills needed to make healthy expectations a reality. (Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst?) Perhaps some of the most important skills needed to create a happy marriage include the skills of listening, resolving conflict, compromising, negotiating, and honoring one another. Take the time to improve in those skills every year…your marriage will thank you for it!

The Sacred Moment In Every Conversation

Our families, our marriage, and our children are flooded with information today. TV’s, computers, smart phones, Ipads, social media, 24-hour news…they all throw information our direction faster than…you fill in the blank. With so much information spoken “at us,” it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.  In fact, we jump into conversation with our spouse and family midsentence with a “yeah, but….” Or, we talk over one another, each one talking louder than the last in an attempt to be heard. Once we have the floor, we don’t stop speaking…no breath, no pause, just tell all as quickly as possible and keep it going in an unending filibuster. Throughout the process, each person becomes defensive. The initial topic often gets lost in our ever more emphatic arguments. Each person grows more possessive of “my time” to speak. And…we lose the sacred moment every conversation needs to bring connection between those involved. The sacred moment in every conversation is the pause, that moment of silence between two speakers. The sacred moment means one person has finished speaking for the moment and the other person has received the opportunity to speak. There is no “yeah, but,” no interruption, no filibuster in the sacred moment…just a sacred moment of silence between speakers. Still, the sacred moment provides so much more than mere silence between speakers.

  1. The sacred moment confers appreciation to the listener for patiently waiting their turn to speak.
  2. The sacred moment means the speaker respects the listener enough to pass them the baton of speech, the opportunity to talk.
  3. The sacred moment also respects the speaker by providing an occasion for the listener to think about what was said, to really consider the speaker’s point of view.
  4. The sacred moment allows both parties to confirm mutual understanding about what was already spoken.
  5. The sacred moment grants the time needed to consider areas of agreement before jumping into a defensive posture.
  6. The sacred moment allows all parties to remain calm, to breathe life into themselves and the conversation, to maintain composure and an attitude of affection.

Appreciation, respect, mutual understanding, agreement, composure, and affection all in a single sacred moment. Amazingly, that moment remains very short, a simple pause between two people engaged in mutual understanding as the baton of speech is handed from one person to another. But that sacred moment can save a conversation and a relationship! Don’t you think it’s time we start practicing the sacred moment, the most important moment in any conversation, today?

A Few Random Thoughts About Marital Conflict

There’s a New Yorker Cartoon in which a couple is arguing. One says to the other, “I can’t remember what we’re arguing about, either. Let’s keep yelling, and maybe it will come back to us.”  I chuckled when I saw that cartoon. It’s true. Many couples do not remember what they are fighting about. They remember the emotion, the hurtful words, the dirty looks…but they don’t recall the reason for the argument. They might continue yelling, but they still don’t remember what started the argument. So why blow up over a topic that you may not even remember tomorrow? Avoid the hurtful words, the dirty looks, the angry comebacks…your spouse will remember them and the damage they have on your relationship is huge. Instead, listen, understand, and bless. That will give you something better to remember and will even change quite a few arguments!

Sincere apologies work miracles. It’s true. But, a sincere apology is more than mere words. A sincere apology reveals genuine remorse for what was done and how it impacted the other person. A sincere apology accepts responsibility for the actions that caused the hurt and a sincere apology reassures the other of your love for them. A sincere apology involves the “fruit of repentance” as well, actions that replace the hurtful action and assure it does not happen again. A sincere apology requires humility, responsibility, and change. It’s well worth it though. A sincere apology not only restores relationship, it strengthens relationship. Sincere apologies work miracles. (Read The Top 6 Components of an Effective Apology for more.)

Time out is not just for the kids. Sometimes, couples need a “time out” to cool down. They need to stop the argument for a short time (20 minutes at least), “go to their respective corners,” and calm down. Calming down will require each one to put their mind on a topic other than the one they were fighting about. You can go for a walk, play a game, read a good story, watch a comedy, skim through magazines…whatever it takes to help you put the topic of the argument out of your mind long enough to “calm down.”  After emotions have cooled, come back together over a cup of hot cocoa and cookies (or some equivalent) to talk about the problem that caused the argument. You’ll likely find it isn’t really the big deal it had become prior to your “time out.” In a calm state, you will more easily resolve the differences or simply “agree to disagree.” It all begins with a “time out” to calm down.

One last thought. If you want to resolve an argument more quickly and calmly stop trying to figure out how your spouse has it all wrong. Instead, figure out what your spouse has right. Every perspective has some validity. Find your spouse’s valid point of view. Listen to the emotion and the priority behind your spouse’s perspective. What emotions, priorities, or concerns are driving their passion. Acknowledge their emotion. Accept their priority. Recognize areas in which you can agree with them. Then, build your solution from there. (Turn Your Argument Into the Best Part of the Day provides more tips for resolving arguments in a healthy way.)

 

*Cartoon downloaded from <https://www.art.com/products/p15063422260-sa-i6846321/david-sipress-i-can-t-remember-what-we-re-arguing-about-either-let-s-keep-yelling-an-new-yorker-cartoon.htm?RFID=765957>

Communicating As An “Us”

The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.”  We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.

  • Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
  • Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
  • Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
  • Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
  • Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)

Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!

5 Strategies to Get Your Children to Listen

Children are an enigma to me, a puzzle.  They hear everything…except when you ask them to do something. Swear one time in front of them and they repeat it for weeks at the most inopportune moments…but they still forget to say “thank you” and “please” after a gazillion reminders. They can remember every single one of the countless Pokémon characters in existence, even spouting off each one’s strengths, weaknesses, and evolutions (I’m not even sure I said that correctly)…but they can’t remember to make their bed and brush their teeth. I can’t say I ever figured out this puzzle, but I have learned a few hints to increase the chances that your children will listen to you when you give them a directive.

  • First, grab their attention. Gain eye contact with your children before giving them a task. This may mean interrupting their current activity for a moment so you can obtain face-to-face, eye-to-eye recognition. Speak directly to them. You’ve seen your children do it to you. When they want to tell you something or show you something, they repeat your “name” until you turn to look at them. They tap your arm and leg and side until you look at them. They might even grab your chin and turn your face to look at them. Take a hint from your children. Grab their attention before giving them a task.
  • Second, make it fun. Clown around a little bit. I remember my children’s allergist. He always found Donald Duck in my daughters’ ears and Bugs Bunny in their other ear.  He found amazing characters in their eyes and throat. They couldn’t wait to see him and find out which ear Donald Duck would reside in today. They never fought his ear, nose, and throat inspections. Why? Because he added fun to it. Be creative and make your children’s chores fun. Sing while you set the table. Tell stories while you make the bed. Make dinosaur noises while you walk to school. Whatever your children love, use it to create some fun.
  • Third, don’t ask, tell. When children are young they do not understand that a polite question such as “Would you please set the table?” is a directive. If you want them to set the table, make it a polite directive: “Set the table, please.” Once again, you will see this when your children interact with other children. Young children rarely say things like, “Would you please pass me that Lego when you get a chance?” They use a much more directive approach. They say, “I want that one” or “Give me the blue one.” They are not necessarily rude, just direct. They understand direct. They do not yet understand the nuances of indirect requests. So, if you want your children to do something, tell them politely but directly.
  • Fourth, slow it down. Be patient. Give them a chance to respond. Children need time to process your request, give them time to do so. If you jump in too quickly, you have just given them an “out.” You have changed the focus from your directive to your impatience. They can’t focus on both. Until their preteen years, they can only focus on one thing at a time and that is generally the immediate or the one with greatest intensity. So, if you jump in with an impatient remark, they will forget the directive and focus on your impatient remark. They find it difficult to keep both in mind. Slow down, be patient, and wait. Give them a chance to respond. If they do not respond, grab their attention again and repeat the directive.
  • Finally, give them appropriate choices. Let them begin to make choices from an early age. Do they want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? Should we read then take a bath, take a bath before reading, or read one book before the bath and one book after the bath? Let them choose. Agree on their choice and carry it out. You might be surprised at how well they remember their choice. And, doing this increases their independence over time.

Five practices that will help your children listen well. They will still prove to be an enigma. You’ll still discover those astounding paradoxes that shock you…like their ability to make the most profound, insightful comment just before talking about the Tooth Fairy’s lack of generosity. But hey, at least they’ll listen a little better.

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