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Tuesday
Jul212009

Are You Listening?

A friend was working on our kitchen, using a hot glue gun that sets in thirty seconds. I started a conversation that required a thoughtful response. He was unsure what to do. If he paused for even 20 seconds to answer me, he would probably have to throw away the pieces he had carefully cut to fit. He had no more wood and a mistake would require yet another trek to Home Depot. Still he did not want to ignore me either.

"I can't talk right now." he blurted out.

I was oblivious to what he was juggling and went about my business. Later, when the crown molding was all safely in place he offered to listen.

Another friend said that sometimes when he is sliding into a comfortable sleep his wife will choose that precise moment to say," I think we should buy a new car," or "I am unhappy in my job." Whether or not she continued the conversation his mind was now football fields from slumber, reeling with the anxiety of a subject that needed more brain receptors than had been successfully shut down for the night only moments ago. Now this is a husband who takes the task of listening seriously. He frequently takes his wife out for coffee, giving her his attentive ear for three quarters of an hour. Stellar husband, in my book. But when she later comes up to him while his computer is open and his fingers are clicking away expecting him to somehow listen to her the way he was able and willing to in the coffee shop, it does not go well.

One time I was listening to a friend on the phone, trying to be sympathetic, when I realized one of my children was in the act of upchucking. I was not sufficiently composed to end the call, and split my limited attention between her problem and the child whose lunch was landing on the floor. It would have been better if I had said what the builder did.

"I can't talk right now."

When my children were small they loved to jump into my arms and we would play couch leaping until their sides split with laughing. But sometimes they would forget that I needed to be ready to catch them, and would hurl themselves at me when I was looking the other way.

Crash.

Early in our marriage I heard a seasoned couple say the phrase "I have something to say. Are you ready to listen?" The question was an honest one, and "Not now" was an acceptable answer that did not carry a shadow meaning of "I do not care about you."

I have not always remembered to do it, but it is a tool in my box that has sometimes kept us together like two wobbly boards, when the words threatened to split us apart. There are hard words that need to be
spoken in a relationship where people are both in high gear much of the time. But there are better and worse times to speak them.

You can catch a fifty pound little boy flinging himself through space... but the chances improve greatly if he says " Will you catch me?" and waits until you say "Yes."

Sometimes I give power to the lie " I have to say it NOW!!" Other times, more frequently as the decades pass, I bide my time. What felt like an emergency transgression, can sit in my emotional draft box for a few days. John has a better chance of catching my words in a way that builds the walls around us rather than between us. I don't want to drop my small child. I shouldn't be any less careful with my husband.