Our new book, Conscious Men is about men, but it is a subject that is equally interesting to women. So each chapter has a Letter to Women in it. Here is the letter from the chapter “He Knows How to Listen Like the Sky.”
If you happen to be a lady yourself, please do comment at the end of the letter how this touched you.
Many women have told us that they feel more relaxed, more loved, and more connected when they can speak freely about their feelings, and their man can listen. But, please remember that it is not always easy or automatic for us, as men, to listen deeply. We have all kinds of conditioning, some of which goes back thousands of years in our nervous system, biochemistry, and social conditioning, to want to withdraw and block things out. So most of us could use a little help here.
Tell us What is Really Going On for You
It helps us when you express what you are really feeling, as honestly as possible, rather than giving ambiguous messages which are difficult for us to decipher. For example, please don’t say “It’s too late now, I don’t need any help,” unless it is really true for you. If the truth is that you could use help, but you feel disappointed or frustrated that we did not offer earlier, it will be best for both of us if you tell us what is true for you.
There is no greater gift for a man than giving him a task that he can carry out for you, that he can accomplish. Men bond through action, and we feel good about ourselves, and inspired to give more, when we are able to check off a task we have accomplished, especially if it is one that has visibly made you happier.
John says: a few years ago Bonnie and I were at our ranch, a few hours drive north of San Francisco. There are several buildings on the ranch, and I was standing with two of the workers, giving them some instructions on what needed to be done. Bonnie came out of the house, about 30 yards away, carrying three bags, all of which looked quite heavy. She called over to us with a big smile and said “Hi there!” We all looked back at her, with big smiles, and called out “Hi Bonnie!” Then we went back to our conversation. She stopped. “Aren’t you going to help me?” Instantly all three of us ran over to help her. But as men, we didn’t readily assume that she needed help until she asked for it. Generally speaking, if a man does not ask for help, it means he does not want help, so we assume this is true for you too.
Talk about How you Feel
When you talk about your feelings, be aware, at least, of the possibility of expressing your feelings without a story. We have noticed that, when you are upset, you can illustrate how you feel by explaining how the world looks right now, through the filter of that feeling. Good examples would be the statements “You never pay attention to me,” or “You are always late.” Speaking in this way can be a way of explaining “Right now I feel really neglected, and in this mood it seems like you never pay attention to me.” Or “I feel frustrated that you are late, and all I can remember in this moment is all the other times you were late.” But this way of speaking puts up a significant hurdle for us, which requires considerable strength and practice to overcome.
We would appreciate if you could experiment with making statements like “Wow, I feel really frustrated right now, it’s taking me over and I’m seeing the whole world through colored glasses.” If you think that your man needs some support in listening without reaction, you may need to provide him with hurdles that he is able to get over on his own. We are aware that we are asking a lot here. When you feel upset and emotional it is not the best time to be asked to edit yourself, but to the degree you can remember, we can step up to meet you more.
Here are three levels of difficulty you can present to a man, in helping him to learn to listen to your feelings:
Easy. The low hurdle would be “I feel sad/irritated/discouraged/frustrated and there is really no reason for it, it is just how I feel.” This might be more of a challenge for you, but almost any man will be able to hear that easily, and will probably immediately become empathetic and want to be there for you. So you might say, “I’m in a bad mood now, nothing to do with you, and I need to be by myself.”
Medium. The middle hurdle would be “I feel irritated because of what happened at work today.” This is a little more difficult for a man to hear, because it’s triggers his Phil the Fixer identity. As soon as you illustrate your feeling with an external cause, he will focus on how to fix the problem, and give less attention to empathizing with your feelings.
Difficult. For most men it is really difficult to empathize and hear your feelings when you make him the cause. “I’m feeling really frustrated because you never clean the kitchen, you’re always late, and I just can’t rely on you because you’re such a woos.” It would take a very conscious man, with a lot of practice under his belt, to be able to listen to those statements and stay present for you.
Here are some helpful tips in talking about feelings to a man who wants to practice how to listen better.
Buffer statements. When you talk about your feelings, you can buffer your statements by letting him know “you don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to fix anything, I just want to share my feelings with you so you know what’s going on, then I feel closer to you.” These kind of statements are like training wheels, for a man to learn how to listen more deeply. You are telling him the kind of response you are looking for: “You don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to do anything about it, you don’t have to change, and you don’t have to feel bad about yourself. Just listen, dammit!!”
Time limit. Most men are able to listen deeply to feelings for limited periods of time. Five or ten minutes will work well. If you feel emotionally charged, contain it within a limited time. If he is able to stay present with you, and just to ask questions and be curious, make sure that you finish it by saying something like “It feels so good to share that with you, I feel really heard,” and then go for a hug together.
Practice daily. See if you can get in the habit of sharing what you feel for a few minutes every day, rather than letting it build up until you feel frustrated and explosive. If you can remember each day to take a few minutes to talk about what it’s like to experience the world through your eyes, and give him an opportunity to practice deep listening, it will create good habits for when you feel really upset.
Don’t Require Equal Time
Many women today feel that the key to every challenge between men and women is equality. Men and women should earn the same amount of money. We agree. Men and women should have equal educational opportunity. We agree. Men and women should be able to do the same kind of jobs. We agree. Men and women should be equally involved in raising children, in making the home beautiful, and in preparing beautiful food. We agree. Men and women should have equal opportunity to express their feelings. Now you lost us.
If you take a few minutes a day to speak about how you feel, and he is going to listen and be present to you, that may be really helpful for both of you. Being able to speak freely about your feelings will release oxytocin for you, which will reduce stress and allow you to return to a flow of love. Listening like the sky for him will bring centeredness, and will allow him to return to feeling spacious and connected with himself. It is a win-win. But it does not really work exactly the same the other way. We have both experienced that many couples, and particularly the women, have a great difficulty in accepting this. The feminine in all of us wants deep connection, inclusion, and a fair deal for everybody. So it seems only fair to her, that if she is able to share her feelings for a few minutes, he should be able to do the same.
We both coach couples who have been together for many decades. Often they have worked out ways to create absolute fairness and equality in every aspect of the marriage. This means that if she gets to share with him all the things she is frustrated or unhappy about, he gets to reciprocate. Now everybody feels satisfied ideologically that it is an even playing field, but the problem is that all of the attraction and mystery has gone out of it, which is usually indicated by a lack of sexual attraction. Now you have become good and compatible roommates, but you may also be feeling a little bored. We have noticed that people want more than that. We want to be whole people, and one of the symptoms of being a whole person is you feel alive in your passion, you feel motivated, and you feel chemistry and connection. Can we sustain that? We have discovered that we can, but it requires maintaining sexual polarity, gender polarity.
The Venus Talk
In order to increase the polarization of masculine and feminine energy, you can make it a daily ritual for you to talk about what you are feeling, and to give him the opportunity to practice deep listening. Do this only for five or ten minutes each day. You can start the Venus talk by saying “I want to talk about how I’m feeling now, you don’t have to do anything, or say anything, you don’t have to feel bad, I just want you to listen and remind me with these four questions. What made me frustrated today? Where did I feel disappointment? Where did I feel concern or fear? Where did I feel embarrassed? And then make sure I have an opportunity to tell you about my wishes and dreams, and what I’m grateful for.”
Remember, if you think your man needs a little help from you in learning to listen deeply, add frequent buffer statements to remind him that his only job is to listen.