Stopping the world to listen

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“Baby, when you hurt, the world stops and I listen and try to understand and empathize. I’m not going to leave you in pain. I’m there for you.”

Dr. John Gottman, on the key sentiment of successful couples

I can remember a few moments where it became clear that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with...where I realized that J was the sort of man who centred his life around treasuring the woman in his life.

We were dating. I had a medical appointment to investigate a lump and I mentioned it to him.  J offered to come with me.  I declined…I’ve been going to appointments on my own all my adult life…I can handle ’em. I can. And I certainly wasn’t gonna have him come with me…It wasn’t that long ago that his wife died after a legion of appointments when her own lump was cancerous. He called the next morning to say that he wanted….no, needed to drive me…to  this appointment. He didn’t think he could do his own thing that day knowing I was getting checked.

I heard many stories he told in the first months of our friendship…as he told me about his late wife and her concerns.  How he rejigged his work so he could be home with her.  How he drove her to medical appointments.  How he beat himself up in painful ways when he recalled an occasion when he encouraged her to attempt to wait out a fever without going to hospital.  He was worn out and couldn’t face a frigid evening to wait all night in an emergency room. (Turned out it was a great move, and she thanked him the next morning…but it didn’t stop him from feeling the guilt.)

Having watched J from a distance for 15 years,  and then in the context of a solid friendship, I knew he was the sort of fellow who was able to connect in kindness to others.  He was understanding and empathic with customers…even when they were short with him and rude…he could understand how his illness made his day hard, or her delay in paying the bill was a larger issue of concern.

I was leaping into love with him certainly…but having studied John Gottman, I knew that he had what it took to make a relationship successful.

Everywhere on the planet, Gottman has found, people automatically evaluate every human transaction on a scale of positive to negative. To repair the damage of missing each other’s bids to connect, individuals must accommodate their partner’s needs as well as their own. That, says Gottman, is the measure of trustthe degree to which you believe your partner has your interests in mind and can listen to you nondefensively, even if you can’t stand each other in the moment. It is the single most important factor that takes a marriage beyond the fabled seven-year breakup point.

measure of trust—the degree to which you believe your partner has your interests in mind and can listen to you non defensively, Quote from Ohlsen, idea by John Gottman

He’s not perfect…for certain not.  But I do know when I need him, he’s there.  When I am overwhelmed, after a hug, he simply asks, “What can I do?” When I’m sad, after a hug, he’ll give me another hug…and maybe we will go for a walk…and maybe we’ll talk or maybe we won’t. When I’m excited…he’ll give me a hug…and laugh while I do a happy dance. And all that “being there” makes his human foibles something that I can take in stride during the course of the day.

And what’s perhaps the most magical part of it all…is that it seems to float his boat when he is there for me.  It seems that he comes alive when he puts in the effort to connect with me.  (I know that feeling…I love it when I’m there for him).  Even when we disagree, he listens thoughtfully to understand my perspective…and then thanks me for investing in us by saying something hard. I watch him do that, and I learn from him.

His desire and effort to connect with me in so many ways pours gasoline on the fire of love.

I matter to him.
…and I know it.
And the world is a better place, and we are stronger for it.

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