Apr 26

How to Listen Better: Experts, Opinions, and Quotes

Below is advice from two contemporary books that tout learning how to listen better, plus info about the use of active listening and some humorous quotes.

I. You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters (2020) by Kate Murphy

One major reason we should listen to each other is that it connects us more closely with others, a phenomenon sorely lacking in society these days.

So, then, how do we learn to listen better? It is, after all, an acquired skill. Kirkus Reviews:

During a conversation, ‘you make yourself aware of and acknowledge distractions, then return to focus…She points out that one of the primary obstacles to listening is the assumption that we know what someone is going to say, which means, unfortunately, that we’re least likely to pay attention to the people closest to us, including spouses, children, and friends.

From an interview with the author on her Amazon page, here’s some helpful advice about curbing this tendency toward half-hearted listening:

A better response will come to you when you have taken in all that the other person has to say. Then, pause if you need to after the other person concludes to think about what you want to say. And if you’re still at a loss, it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ You can also say, ‘I’d like to think about that,’ which conveys that you’re honoring what the other person said by taking time to think about it, while, at the same time, honoring that part of you that is uncertain or anxious and needs time to process. Better that, than responding in a way that is insensitive or misses the point.

II. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living (2016) by Krista Tippett

One key way to get wisdom? As stated to Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Huffington Post: “Start with the attention you give to the words you speak…A corollary is (that) we become wise by asking better questions and being listeners, as well as speakers. As I say, generous listening is not about being quiet, it’s about being present. So there’s something about wisdom that knows the power of words and also knows the power of presence and of knowing when to speak is not the right thing.”

III. Active Listening

Neuroscientist Robert K. Cooper, co-author of Executive E.Q.“Many ‘active listening’ seminars are, in actuality, little more than a shallow theatrical exercise in appearing like you’re paying attention to another person. The requirements: Lean forward, make eye contact, nod, grunt, or murmur to demonstrate you’re awake and paying attention, and paraphrase something back every 30 seconds or so. As one executive I know wryly observed, many inhabitants of the local zoo could be trained to go through these motions, minus the paraphrasing.”

John Gottman, a marriage researcher, similarly pooh-poohs active listening. Although he once thought it worked, he eventually concluded his clients weren’t really helped by it.

In an interview with Randall C. Wyatt on psychotherapy.net, Gottman explained that the concept works better in therapeutic dialogue than in real-life dialogue. The difference? In therapy “…the client is paying, the therapist isn’t paying. Usually the client is complaining about somebody else, so it’s very easy for the therapist to say: ‘Oh, that’s terrible what you have to put up with, your mother is awful, or your husband, or whatever it is. I really understand how you feel.'”

IV . Humorous Quotes About Listening 

Fran Lebowitz, humorist: “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

Mark Twain, writer: “Most conversations are monologues in the presence of witnesses.”

Robert McCloskey, author: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Aug 09

Sue Johnson: “Hold Me Tight”/”Love Sense”

A founder of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), clinical psychologist Sue Johnson is considered an expert on what keeps romantic relationships going. Below are notable quotes from this author‘s Hold Me Tight and Love Sense.

I. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (2008) by Sue Johnson

Love is our bulwark, designed to provide emotional protection so we can cope with the ups and downs of existence. This drive to emotionally attach — to find someone to whom we can turn and say “Hold me tight” — is wired into our genes and our bodies. It is as basic to life, health, and happiness as the drives for food, shelter, or sex. We need emotional attachments with a few irreplaceable others to be physically and mentally healthy — to survive.

When love doesn’t work, we hurt. Indeed, “hurt feelings” is a precisely accurate phrase, according to psychologist Naomi Eisenberger of the University of California. Her brain imaging studies show that rejection and exclusion trigger the same circuits in the same part of the brain, the anterior cingulate, as physical pain.

Sociologist James House of the University of Michigan declares that emotional isolation is a more dangerous health risk than smoking or high blood pressure, and we now warn everyone about these two!

If I appeal to you for emotional connection and you respond intellectually to a problem, rather than directly to me, on an attachment level I will experience that as “no response.” This is one of the reasons that the research on social support uniformly states that people want “indirect” support, that is, emotional confirmation and caring from their partners, rather than advice.

In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.

II. Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (2013) by Sue Johnson

Happiness experts, such as psychologist Ed Diener of the University of Illinois, tell us that our relationships are the strongest single predictor of human joy and well-being. Ever since social scientists started systematically studying happiness, it has been resoundingly clear that deep and stable relationships make for happy and stable individuals. Positive relationships also make us more resilient, advance our personal growth, and improve our physical health.

Distressed partners no longer see each other as their emotional safe haven. Our lover is supposed to be the one person we can count on who will always respond. Instead, unhappy partners feel emotionally deprived, rejected, even abandoned. In that light, couples’ conflicts assume their true meaning: they are frightened protests against eroding connection and a demand for emotional reengagement.

The most functional way to regulate difficult emotions in love relationships is to share them.

“There is no such thing as constructive criticism,” says John Gottman. “All criticism is painful.” He is correct. We never like to hear that there is something “wrong” with us, or that something needs changing, especially if this message is coming from the loved one we most depend on. 

It’s important to emphasize that misattunement is not a sign of lack of love or commitment. It is inevitable and normal; in fact, it is startlingly common. Ed Tronick of Harvard Medical School, who has spent years absorbed in monitoring the interactions between mother and child, finds that even happily bonded mothers and infants miss each other’s signals fully 70 percent of the time. Adults miss their partner’s cues most of the time, too! We all send unclear signals and misread cues. We become distracted, we suddenly shift our level of emotional intensity and leave our partner behind, or we simply overload each other with too many signals and messages. Only in the movies does one poignant gaze predictably follow another and one small touch always elicit an exquisitely timed gesture in return. We are sorely mistaken if we believe that love is about always being in tune.

Feb 13

Love Quotes: Five Experts on the Subject

The following love quotes are among the most well-liked by readers of Erich Fromm, Dr. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix, Ty Tashiro, and John Gottman.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (Centennial Edition 2000)

Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.

Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’

The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.

Sue Johnson

In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (2008)

Learning to love and be loved is, in effect, about learning to tune in to our emotions so that we know what we need from a partner and expressing those desires openly, in a way that evokes sympathy and support from him or her. Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (2013)

It is an ironic paradox: being dependent makes us more independent. The Love Secret: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (2014)

Harville Hendrix,  Making Marriage Simple: Ten Truths for Changing the Relationship You Have Into the One You Want (2013)

Romantic Love is just the first stage of couplehood. It’s supposed to fade. Romantic Love is the powerful force that draws you to someone who has the positive and negative qualities of your parents or caregiver (this includes anyone responsible for your care as a child, for example: a parent, older sibling, grandparent, or babysitters).

“Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in relationship?” Because you can’t always have both. You can’t cuddle up and relax with “being right” after a long day.

About 90 percent of the frustrations your partner has with you are really about their issues from childhood. That means only 10 percent or so is about each of you right now. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Ty TashiroThe Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love (2014)

Although 90 percent of people will marry in their lifetime, only three in ten will find enduring love.

No partner is perfect, and part of a relationship is showing a consistent effort to manage your own weaknesses, while showing some consistent grace when it comes to your partner’s weaknesses.

When being in love is broken into its smaller parts, we see that it is three parts liking to one part lust.

John M. Gottman

Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (1999)

…one of the most surprising truths about marriage: Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind—but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage. The Seven Principles…

Converting a complaint into a positive need requires a mental transformation from what is wrong with one’s partner to what one’s partner can do that would work. It may be helpful here to review my belief that within every negative feeling there is a longing, a wish, and, because of that, there is a recipe for success. It is the speaker’s job to discover that recipe. The speaker is really saying “Here’s what I feel, and here’s what I need from you.” Or, in processing a negative event that has already happened, the speaker is saying, “Here’s what I felt, and here’s what I needed from you.” The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples (2011)

Aug 16

John Gottman: A Real Go-To Guy For Relationship Help

If you want to learn how to improve your marriage or relationship, straight or gay, John Gottman, Ph.D., has been one of the top go-to guys for quite a while. One of his most popular books, written with assistance from Nan Silver, is The Seven Principles For Making a Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (1999).

From Amazon.com: “Gottman, the director of the Gottman Institute, has found through studying hundreds of couples in his ‘love lab’ that it only takes five minutes for him to predict–with 91 percent accuracy–which couples will eventually divorce. He shares the four not-so-obvious signs of a troubled relationship that he looks for, using sometimes amusing passages from his sessions with married couples.”

John Gottman’s “four horsemen of the apocalypse” are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. I believe these were first described in his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last (1994).

The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships, written by John Gottman with Joan DeClaire, gives us another interesting Gottman concept. From the book description: “Introducing the empowering concept of the ’emotional bid,’ which he calls the fundamental unit of emotional connection, Gottman shows that all good relationships are built through a process of making and receiving successful bids. These bids range from such subtle gestures as a quick question, a look, or a comment to the most probing and intimate ways we communicate.”

What does Gottman’s research reveal? ” (P)eople in happy relationships make bidding and responding to bids a high priority in their lives, and he has discovered the fascinating secrets behind mastering the bidding process. Those who do so tend to ‘turn toward’ bids from others, whereas most problems in relationships stem from either’ turning away’ or ‘turning against’ bids for connection.”

Go to Gottman’s website for a quiz to determine how you do your own bids for connection.

One of the newer offerings from both Gottman and his wife, psychologist Julie Schwartz Gottman, is the Gott Sex? Series. Click on the link for info and here for a quiz about your sex life.

And in early September be on the lookout for his next book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal.