The website of best-selling sex author Anne Hooper
GOOD LISTENING 1
CASE HISTORY RONNIE AND CLAIRE WHY CAN’T I GET HIM TO KISS ME?
For some men and women, a kiss connects directly to their sexual response system, lighting them up uncontrollably. Claire was unhappy because by omitting to kiss her during sex her husband was denying her a sensuous experience of sex.
CLAIRE is 44 and a teacher. She has neat brown hair, dresses in tweeds and has an ugly but striking face.
“When we were first married 20 years ago I used to respond wonderfully to Ronnie. I’m sure part of the reason for his success was that he used to be a wonderful kisser. I remember, in the days before we actually had sex together,he’d kiss me till I was silly with arousal. But once we started actually having sex, the kissing tailed off.
“Now we don’t make love so often and I’m not terribly happy when we do. I’ve asked him frequently to kiss me more during our lovemaking but he just says “don’t be silly” and ignores me. I’ve reached the stage of getting quite angry about this. But he generally ignores me when I ask for attention.”
RONNIE is 45, also a teacher. He is the epitome of an English headmaster. A slightly shabby jacket, worn corduroy pants and a pipe make him look almost as if he’s playing a part.
“I’ve come here very reluctantly. Claire is always making a fuss about something and she’s making a mountain out of a molehill here. Our love-making is fine, there’s absolutely no problem. I seem to be surrounded by silly women. If it’s not Claire sounding off, it’s our daughter or my mother.”
When somebody insists there isn’t a problem, it is usually because they are frightened they are going to discover something that reflects on them really badly. I guessed that Ronnie was going to need a lot of reassurance, perhaps because he felt very criticised. When he later described his mother, it became apparent he had been raised by a very difficult and hysterical woman.
When Claire asked him in front of me to kiss her more, I witnessed him brush this off as a request of no importance. Did his mother make many requests? I wondered. This unleased a spate of complaints about his mother. I directed Claire to ask him again for more kisses. He responded a second time by brushing off the request. But when I pointed out that by doing this, he was choosing to ignore her words and ventured the suggestion that he might be seeing Claire as an attention grabber like his parent, he listened.
On a third attempt he replied directly and we began to get somewhere. Several counselling sessions later we had established that although Claire was very different to his mother, he nevertheless did respond to her as if they were one and the same. I set Ronnie and Claire the Three-stage Communication exercise which they struggled with over the next months. It helped Ronnie see the adverse effect of his poor listening. He slowly and quietly changed. Six months on, the atmosphere between the couple was warmer and Claire was getting her kisses.
GOOD LISTENING 2
Good listening is the second ingredient of good communication. Good listening doesn’t mean just hearing words. It includes concentration, avoiding interruption, indicating verbally and by body language that you are listening and the encouragement of further explanation.
A good listener focusses for most of the conversation on the speaker’s face. If you drop your gaze too long the speaker feels your attention is lost. If you can manage to sit opposite the speaker and make your sitting position look open, ie. your arms on the arms of the chair, not folded across your chest, your position face on, not twisted sideways, they will feel you are open to their
If you can manage to sit at equal levels, that’s a good idea because if one of you sits higher than the other, the lower one may feel dominated and the higher one over-responsible. These feelings would affect your responses. Try not to have a barrier between you such as a table or desk and don’t sit side by side on a sofa unless it’s big enough for you to feel there is a comfortable distance between you.
If the speaker is very nervous and is showing this in their body language you might try the Mirroring experiment (see page 00). By emulating their body movements for a while and then slowly changing yours to a more open position, they may follow suit and feel more open accordingly.
The most difficult conversations are with people who sit there poker-faced, not betraying by a nod or a twitch what they are thinking about your words. Very shortly you’ll begin to dry up. So to encourage the speaker, nod occasionally, let your face register whatever emotion is appropriate such as a smile or shock or dismay. Say “yes”, “I see”, “OK”, “right”, “I get the picture”, all encouragements that help them feel you are really taking in their words. Another way of “saying” these things is to nod, quite regularly.
Perhaps they may stop, looking anxious or expectant. Don’t charge in with your own version of events. Rein back for a whole. Instead encourage them further by “Is there any more?” “Is there anything else?” Only put your side once they have made it clear they have finished making their point. This helps the speaker feel they have expressed themselves fully and their sentiments have been heard, which is a very satisfactory sensation.
Even if you are dying to rebut their point, or you long to give your version of affairs, or put them straight in some way, hold your horses. If you are worried about forgetting your point, jot down a note as a reminder, but wait before speaking. Think of the conversation in terms of platforms. You will each have your own platform. But this platform is for them – not you. It will only be when your partner’s issue has been spoken, heard and dealt with that it becomes your turn for your platform.
GOOD LISTENING 3
If you don’t entirely understand what is being said, ask for further explanation. One way of getting things quite clear is to repeat back briefly the gist of what they’ve been saying. “Let me get this straight. You are feeling bad because you think I don’t come home early enough from work for us to have any sex together later. But I think you are also saying that I demand too much of your attention. Can you enlarge on this?”
In order to indicate appropriately that you are listening you do actually have to listen. This means that concentration is vital. If you don’t concentrate, if you let your mind wander, you are wasting both your partner’s and your own time. So don’t let yourself fall into a day dream. Don’t let your thoughts fly off at a tangent. Don’t dwell doggedly on the point you want to make at the expense of hearing theirs. And don’t have the conversation at all if you are also listening to the radio or television. Either switch off the set. Or make a date for uninterrupted time.
The most effective way of focussing your concentration is to deliberately put your own thoughts and feelings on hold for a while. There will be time to express these later. Remember the idea of platforms – this is not your platform. Don’t therefore cap their story with a parallel one of your own. Or at least, not until the issue has been resolved. This will just block the development of the conversation and prevent a healthy outcome.
Don’t dismiss a partner’s gripe for any reason. We often fall into the trap of thinking they ought to feel as we do about a situation. This totally ignores the fact that they aren’t us and have a different but equally valid view point.
Another difficulty we may bring to hearing a partner’s words is that we may, for reasons of our own past, confuse them with those of another important figure such as a parent. If a husband is trying desperately to say for good reason “I need more attention” and you remember back to your alcoholic father whose demands for attention were so hysterical you were forced to discount them, it’s easy to see you might fall into the trap of discounting your husabnd too. So take your partner seriously. As a general rule it’s safe to say that people don’t look or sound distressed without there being good reason for it.
One reason we don’t want to “hear” what a partner has to say is because it might show us up or prove us to be wrong. We therefore erect defence systems against “being wrong”. If we are always right, working anything out shudders to a halt. It helps to regard the problem therefore not in terms of who is right and who is wrong but in terms of being different. The two of you may indeed be very different but because you are trying to live together harmoniously, there need to be serious efforts to understand each other and to adjust some aspects of your behaviour.
These pages may let you feel that listening is a passive process if you aren’t allowed to venture your own opinions. But what I’m describing here is an active policy of working very hard on your side of the dialogue. The end result can be a warm glow on the part of the person who knows they’ve been heard.
GOOD LISTENING 4 WORK PAGE
THE IMPORTANCE OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Ask your partner to describe fully some event that they have experienced during the day. As they talk, look into their eyes most of the time, encourage the conversation with nods, ums, I sees, etc, and don’t drop your gaze until they indicate their story is ended. Don’t make any comment apart from saying “thank you”.
Now ask them to describe another event (it can be quite trivial such as what they had for breakfast) and look anywhere but at their face. You can move your face, looking around the room, you can tap your fingers and appear impatient. What you’re not doing is giving your attention.
They should find it extremely difficult to keep going and the story will grind to a halt quite early on. Even if it doesn’t, ask your partner to describe how their feelings differed while telling the two stories. Then ask them to give you the same treatment. The exercise illustrates the importance of positive feedback.
If the complaint is that one of you doesn’t “hear” the information offered by the other, the following is a three-stage method which trains you to do so and at the same time gets you in touch with just how dull things may have become. Any communication must be made in three stages.
1) the first speaker makes a statement, 2) the second speaker must make a reply, 3) the first speaker must respond to the reply, in some way relating to it.
It doesn’t matter how mundane the exchange is, the principle is to get the exchange going in the first place. An example might be :
FIRST: “Do you know what’s on television tonight?”
SECOND: “No, I don’t”.
FIRST: “I’ll look it up in the TV Times then if you like.” Or
FIRST: “I’d like to go to the movies this week.”
SECOND: “I don’t want to.”
FIRST: “Will you be all right on your own then?” Or
FIRST: “I’m going out with the lads on Friday night.”
SECOND: “I think I’ll stay at home and wash my hair.”
FIRST: “That’s a good idea”.
Over the period of a week try to make every exchange on this principle. The eventual impression will be that you’ve been listened to. And that feels good.
ENHANCING THE DAY
Using the above method, share three high spots of your relationship every day.The result can be the delight of shared amusement, even laughter. For example,
GOOD LISTENING 5 WORK PAGE
FIRST: “I remember those wonderful terrifying drives down the 1 – 3 gradient road in the country.
SECOND: “I remember you getting out of the car, you were so chicken, and leaving me to my fate.”
THIRD: “Yes, but you took your revenge. You drove off when I caught you up, remember?”
BOX – LOVING NOTES
Take to leaving light-hearted notes around the house for the other to find unexpectedly. I once discovered my lover’s car parked in a side street and left a suggestive note under the windscreen wiper. He adored finding it because of the unexpectedness.