Sometimes, we hesitate talking to the ones whose advice, support, and approval we value the most: our love ones. Whether that is our significant other, family members, or treasured friends, we are most afraid to be vulnerable to these wonderful people in our lives, because we are also afraid of judgment. A disapproving look or reaction from them would hurt so much more than one from a stranger.
The skill of listening without judgment is a very difficult one, and for our loved ones whose well-being we are very invested on, it sounds like not showing outward reactions is counter-intuitive.
I remember when my brother was dating someone who, looking back now, is not a great fit. The fallout of the breakup was pretty rough on him, he had to scale back the classes he was taking that semester. It took all of me to not tell him how he is “stupid” for staying or how “bitchy” she is for behaving like that. Making him feel like a failure is not going to help with recovering at his own pace and moving on. I told him more that once that in my first relationship in Canada I experienced through the exact same thing, the breakup was too much for me mentally, I dropped one class during the semester of winter 2009 and made up for it through an online course in the spring. By connecting what he went through with a similar experience I had, I aimed to not show harsh judgment for what happened. I hoped I achieved the goal at that time.
Just recently, I told my spouse about a dilemma I have at work. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector helping vulnerable people, gut-wrenching stories about people’s suffering is something I hear about all the time. As I shared to him my dilemma, I was very relieved that he did not mock me for my ‘over the top’ idea on how to possibly the client. He acknowledged how emotionally invested I have become for clients sometimes, emphasized the value of setting some separation between work and personal life, and suggested alternate ways to channel my frustration about the flaws of society.
A tactic to curb this almost-impulsive tendency to judge what we hear is to ask more questions. When our love ones vent about their situation, by asking them to rehash certain details, it can help them let off steam. It becomes evident that a reaction or advice from the listener is not even necessary.
Another thing I have learned, speaking of the idea that advice is not what they are seeking, is to actually listen to cues that prompt you to give feedback. Something like “what do you think” or “what should I do” or “any suggestions or thoughts?” And if this does not come up at all, perhaps they just want to vent. I think that people in general are more hesitant to say “I don’t need advice, just a listening ear and maybe a hug.”. Many times, this is actually the default. So I’m working on paying attention to this detail moving forward.
For my spouse, when I want to run something through him, I actually start by saying “baby love, I’d like your thoughts about something“. So, when I start my talk by jumping to the story, or even making complaining mumbling noises, he knows that all I need is a hug, a moment of sympathy, and a listening ear.
In many conversations, in many relationships we have, we take turns doing the role of the giver and the receiver, the supporter and the seeker for help. This form of love language is vital for all these valuable people in our lives, and also for ourselves.