50 ways to listen to your lover...

Most of us know how important it is to listen - not just hear, but really listen - when our loved one is trying to tell us somethng important. If we have already learned some skills in active listening, we might know how to indicate that we are trying to get it (I think what you're saying is.... Are you telling me that......?), to deflect our internal attention away from our own mind-chatter, and to hold an attitude of openess and preparedness to 'not know' (in other words, suspend our assumptions that we already know what our partner thinks or feels about a given issue).

These skills are crucial for good listening, in order to feel deeply connected in relationship, to cultivate love and trust - it's been said that for most of us, being listened to really well feels so much like being loved, it may as well be!

In my opinion though, to listen fully and completely to one another, we need to listen in the way that musicians do. Musicians are trained to listen above all else - to be a competent musician, well developed listening skills are far more important than the sounds we produce. If we are listening well enough, the sounds we make in response will blend, support, expand or develop the sounds that came before. Only then are we truly making music together.

Dr Katrina Ferran-Skewes, an academic and music therapist at the University of Melbourne, writes about what to listen for when responding to another person's musical communication ("The experience of group music therapy for six bereaved adolescents" - PhD thesis 2001 http://dtl.unimelb.edu.au/R/I5DJ1KNER236EH9FFU39Q19UXXGXT8G9J1HNBHYG2RG81K2KHX-01440?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=67500&local_base=GEN01&pds_handle=GUEST . Her list includes:-

  • touch (for example, using a light or heavy touch on a musical instrument)
  • dynamics (loud, soft, getting louder or softer etc)
  • melody
  • harmony
  • rhythm
  • tone
  • pitch
  • form (discerning patterns)
  • pauses
  • changes in timbre (tone quality)
  • accents

What would it be like to listen to the vocal 'music' of our loved one in this way? If I were to apply these 'musical listening' skills to my relationship, I may be still somewhat interested in the words, but also I may consider:-

  • what phrases does my partner give a heavier or lighter touch to?
  • where does he become quiet, or raise his voice in what he is telling me?
  • when monitoring my own responses to what she is saying, does she sound melodious or dissonant (or both at different times)?
  • does his communication 'harmonise' or jar with my own views about the issue?
  • how do I experience her vocal and body rhythms (e.g. gestures, posture)  as she communicates to me about this issue? Are they energetic? slow? changing? constant? (you may think of many more domains within this field of enquiry)
  • is her tone harsh? timid? flat? Where does the quality of her tone change?
  • is his pitch low? high? rising? falling?
  • are there distinct patterns of speech she is using to tell me about this issue? (phrases that repeat, ways of forming a sentence)
  • where does he pause? after particular words? before he's about to say something he's fearful I may not like?
  • what words or phrases does he accent, give more emphasis to?

If we start applying this quality of listening to each other's communication, it's likely that we will start to feel much more deeply connected, understood and loved. It's also possible that we may find out much more information about what our loved ones are really saying to us, for example, I may suspect that "It's really hard for her to tell me about this -her tone is flat, the volume is quiet, she's speaking slowly, when usually she speaks in a much quicker and more animated way"; or "He's really desperate to tell me how important this is to him - he's repeated the same message in several different ways in the course of a few minutes, and he's using his hands to tell me as well, which he doesn't normally do". Using the information I've gained from my 'musical analysis', I can then go back to my active listening strategies to check out if my interpretation is right - "This is really hard for you to tell me about, do I have that right?" or "It's so important to you that I understand this".

If you have any thoughts about this issue, or experiences of listening 'musically' to your loved ones, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Till next post, Vivienne




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