listening

I met a friend’s new partner, Julie*, a few weeks back and she was solidly drunk. That’s not the point of the story, but I’m sure she would have been less forthcoming without the wine.

This sweet, slurring lady had no sooner figured out who I was married to (my husband has the same stressful job as this lady) than she began quizzing me—”What’s it like being married to him? How do you cope with listening to him when he gets home from work?”

At first, I tried answering her briefly and laughingly—”Oh, he doesn’t say much about his day anyway—his usual answer is ‘Standard’.” But Julie persisted. “No, seriously.” She was all eyes. “Don’t you find it draining, listening to him?” After awhile, I realised Julie was worried about her own need to discuss work, her own need to de-brief after a stressful day, and whether it was too much for her partner.

So I told Julie that sometimes when my husband has a tough day and comes home wired and tired, he’ll talk a bit about it and I’ll listen. I’ll give him a hug, make him food or tea. But I reassured Julie that my husband does the same for me if I have a rough day (rarely due to work these days), and I think that’s normal in a relationship. I told her I don’t think one person’s bad day is something for the other to ‘cope with’, it’s part and parcel of being supportive. She seemed unconvinced, and said she hates how she needs to talk about work, hates burdening her partner.

The whole conversation struck me as odd. It made me realise that listening is often seen as a favour performed. And I feel this too sometimes—a profound gratitude if someone simply listens intently. Yet focussing on others when they speak, especially our friends and family, should be the most basic courtesy.

I’m often guilty of drifting off during conversations. My son tells me all about his bike ride and how coming down this specific hill his speed reached blah-de-blah-de-blah and I tune out and realise I’ve missed a chance to connect. My mother calls me and tells me something about a neighbour and I switch off and start planning dinner in my head. But I want to do better. I know when someone listens well, I feel the gift of it all day, the pleasure of being heard, maybe even understood. And it is no small thing.

After my talk with Julie, I am reminded to listen more closely. To pay attention. To give others that fundamental care.

*not her real name. Obviously 🙂

15 Comments

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15 responses to “listening

  1. Food for much thought here, Fiona. Thank you for the reminder to be present and listening when people want to talk. I often still feel guilty that when my children were small, I was often too preoccupied to focus fully on their need to talk.

    • Oh Maureen, I was just the same when my kids were little, and let’s face it, small children talk so much!! And they’re so exhausting! But now I have older kids and more energy I figure I have less of an excuse …

      Thank you for your comment, I always love hearing from you xx

  2. And how powerful to just listen rather than wade in with advice or a solution or worse, ‘If you think that’s bad you should hear about my day!’. I only hop Julie’s partner makes her tea and listens. Great post.

    • Hi Jo, yes, that’s such a good point – to listen fully, without jumping in. Hard to do sometimes, but important.
      And Julie’s partner is an excellent listener, so fingers crossed all will be well there!
      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  3. Thanks for your insightful post, Fiona. Sometimes it’s not obvious how much someone needs to be heard and it can make all the difference to them.

    • Hi Alyssa, that is so true. A friend or relative just quietly mentioning something might desperately need us to listen. Paying attention really can be so vital.
      Hope you’re keeping well and hope to see you again soon! x

      • I need to learn to be more in tune with those things. Especially as a writer.
        Are you attending any writing events any time soon?

      • Hi Alyssa, I haven’t booked to go to anything in the near future. I really wanted to attend the launch of Sally Piper’s new book, The Geography of Friendship, but I’m away that weekend. If you see anything you’re interested in going to, hit me up! x

      • Sally Piper has a lot of interesting events happening at the moment. She is doing a seminar on “toning the saggy middle” on 8 July at Brisbane Square Library. But I’m not sure I can go to that either… hmm…

  4. What a beautiful post, Fi. It’s something my husband and I have been talking about a lot recently. He tends to think he ‘should’ just cope with his day and not burden me with it. But I actually want to know, not only because I’m interested, but also because I can feel shut out. Just as listening to your partner is a gift, sharing the things you worry about is a gift, too. 🙂

    • Wow, I hadn’t thought about that, but of course you’re right. Listening helps the listener feel included and informed, too.
      I feel like I’ve learnt so much from everyone’s comments on this post – thank you! xx

  5. I read a book a little while back called The Secret Life of Pronouns (interesting, but very dry and technical). The book explores connections between language and psychology, and it immediately came to mind when you described your friend, and that her concern about you listening to your husband’s day was mostly likely a projection of her own concerns.
    I really feel for her – I’m guilty of holding things in because I don’t want to burden others – especially if they’re having a tough time themselves. I’ve also avoided certain people in the supermarket when I’ve been going through a rough patch, worried they will add their own stresses onto mine.
    I guess we can only do the best we can at any given time – some days we’re going to be absolute legends – the best friend ever, and other times we just won’t have that same capacity.
    I really enjoyed your post – especially the part about listening to children talk about their day, because one day it won’t be me they’re telling those little stories to, and I’m sure I’ll miss it!
    Thanks, Fiona!

    • Hi Marie, thank you for offering your thoughts on this. I’m so impressed with your reading material – that sounds like the kind of book I’m sure would be good for me but that I fear I’m not worthy of!
      I know what you mean about not wanting to burden others, and also about sometimes not having the resources ourselves to help others very well. I suppose in an ideal world we’d be listening carefully all the time (mind you, this brings to mind a scary image of intense, slightly creepy people!!), but because of life’s complications, we should aim for, as you say, doing the best we can at any given time.
      And yes, we’ll likely miss all those kids stories about bugs and bike rides, so we’d better soak them in now while they last 🙂

  6. Sometimes we simply need to vent, we don’t need advice or solutions, simply the feeling of being heard. By nature, I am a talker, but I am trying to be more of a listener.

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