How To Listen Without Judgment When Your Heart And Mind Are Racing


“You got two good ears, but you just don’t listen,” I laughed as I kissed his cheek. “I said that I love you.”

A whirlwind romance swept me off my feet last year, landing me in a new apartment with my boyfriend. And while he still makes me feel dizzy with a look, every day I’m still learning a lot about him.

Shortly after we moved in together, it seemed like he wasn’t listening… at least, that’s how I felt sometimes. It turns out, he was thinking the same about me.

He runs a tech company and loves to pull all-nighters, coding to loud 90’s rap music, lots of Mos Def and Notorious B.I.G., and also super cheesy pop country music. She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy by Kenny Chesney plays on repeat. I like to fall asleep around 11 p.m. after an episode of House of Cards. He was getting frustrated with me when I went out drinking with a few girlfriends while I would get frustrated because it felt like he was trying to control me. When I’m stressed out, I like to go on walks and just need space, whereas he wants to talk things through… what a monster!

When he asked me if I knew what he meant, my reply was always “ I have no idea what you mean.”

So what could we do? Find a couples therapist of course. That he’s my dad is just a bonus. He has over 41 years of practice under his belt, not to mention writing a book on the subject. Picture Tom Selleck with a pipe, blowing smoke rings while sharing relationship wisdom, that’s my dad.

We invited my parents over for dinner at our new apartment, with the extra incentive of seeking advice about our communication issue. As usual, my father came through with what we needed to hear. The most important element of good communication, he said, is the ability to listen without judgment and to speak without criticism of the other person. In an ideal relationship, there is no criticism, shame or blame.

My first thought was, “Thanks, Dad, easy for you to say after a bunch of fancy degrees in Psychology and 42 years of marriage. But, how can two people who haven’t even spent a year together actually do that?”

But still, my boyfriend and I realized that we had fallen into the habit of thinking that we are the only reasonable ones and that it is the other person who has the bizarre habits that have to change. That’s progress, isn’t it?

My father then explained that everyone thinks that they are reasonable, but in a conversation with your significant other, you have to remember “You are not me, and we’re both right.” Disagreement without judgment is possible. It means being vulnerable, sharing inner thoughts, more than we already thought we were. I don’t always agree with what my boyfriend says, but I am learning to listen with compassion and gain a greater understanding of where he is coming from.

I realize that the beauty of moving through this awkward, painful part in our relationship means embracing my boyfriend’s differences. No, that’s not some shocking revelation, but internalizing it is a big deal. For us, knowing kindness (knowing what the other likes) is a great way to show love on a daily basis. I check my phone more often, and he uses headphones when he codes at night. He wakes me up with a kiss and a cup of coffee in the morning, and I now do the laundry.

I can’t imagine any couple in love who acts 100% rationally. For me, it is about learning how to function as a team when my default, at first, was to fight for myself. It is finding that balance of giving and take, and how we both contributed to the relationship differently as well as learning what fights to fight and which ones are better to call a truce and then move forward. We’re a team, and it’s necessary to maintain to be healthy and functional as a pair. We are both learning that even with such love at the base of our relationship there is so much more to the journey. So we’re taking it one day at a time. TC mark


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  • Mario Savioni

    “We’re both right.” This is actually key. People come from different experiences and if they are relatively normal that experience is legitimate and can be legitimately applied. Better is that they can reasonably explain why they chose to respond in the way that they do. I often joke at work by saying that I am always right. What I mean is that in my world, what I do and say has background and merit so long as I am being genuine and apply intuition about what and why I think a position is correct. I can usually explain why I said something and it should make sense because it is reasonable to me. I am very open to others and their rational explanations. When I hear one I smile and concede. In fact, I am often more interested in their explanations than the problem itself. I love good ideas.

    I once did an entire photo exhibit where I exposed photographic paper from film from least to most exposure. I had shot a strike and realized that the point of any encounter/conflict is that one side is usually better than other, where, for example, one image in particular seemed to cast more light on the strikers than the hoteliers, who were represented by the security guards. It was years ago. Anyway, I discovered that the light raining down on the workers was like a sign of blessing. In a “black and white” world, there are actually gray areas of truth. Underlying the argument against the company is that ultimately, we are dealing with peoples’ lives over a corporation’s profits. The corporate people were not in the streets. They were not living on $35 a week (in expensive Honolulu no doubt) that the Union could afford as a stipend while they struck. I remember people with families taking a chance by not settling for less. It was a values question.

    I agree with your father. Both of you are interested in the other person. Both of you are doing legitimate things. He sounds like a total winner as do you. He works all night long! I believe that you ask him why he does things you don’t understand.

    If that picture is a picture of the two of you, I once read that two people who look like each other will more likely than not tend to get along. Both of you look very much alike. I wish you both a long and happy relationship. I am jealous.

    Oh, and one more thing. People don’t realize that relationships are about power. Your boyfriend seems to have a great job and seems to be doing what he loves. I don’t remember you mentioning what you love to do and get paid for. Your boyfriend gets validated financially and socially for a job that seems to be cutting edge. It’s like a doctor, where he receives social, psychological, and economic rewards. If you aren’t doing what you love to do and receive the same rewards, you may feel interior to him or he may resent that you are not so unemployed. Now, this can have no grounds in a relationship between two healthy and happy individuals. But, I question a man, who does not allow his girlfriend or wife to have her own life as in: “I went out drinking with a few girlfriends while I would get frustrated because it felt like he was trying to control me.”

    Traditionally, I believe that men liked to keep their wives at home because it meant that they could control them. They knew where they were and as “bread winners,” they could do whatever they wanted.

    It is important, in terms of power, that you have a job/interest(s) that you are equally involved in and which give you social, psychological, and economic rewards. Especially, now that we are embarking on an age of equality, the point in relationship peace is that both parties are being fulfilled on their own terms and are not dependent on their significant other. My good friend Joel Beck just posted a quote, not naming the source but it speaks to this point: “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”

    Anyway, I loved this piece even if it only meant that I had so much to say. Thank you for the opportunity. It is what I like to do.

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