“I cringe every time Debra says to me, Let’s talk about our relationship,'” Chad told me in one of our phone sessions.
“What is it about talking about your relationship that makes you cringe?” I asked.
“It always seems to be about something I’m doing that she is upset about and wants me to change.”
“Then why do you listen?”
“Aren’t I supposed to listen? Aren’t people supposed to talk about their relationship? Aren’t I supposed to care about her feelings?”
“Yes, it is wonderful when people can openly talk about their relationship, with a deep desire to learn about themselves and each other. But when one person wants to talk about what the other is doing wrong, it doesn’t feel good and it won’t get anywhere. That kind of talking is about controlling rather than learning. Learning leads to resolution and intimacy, while controlling leads to distance and distress. So it is much kinder to yourself not to listen when Debra just wants to talk about what you are doing wrong. When she is doing that, she is making you responsible for her feelings.”
“So should I just walk away when she is upset? That seems really cold and uncaring.”
“Do you want to be responsible for her feelings?”
“No. So what do I say when she says, Let’s talk about our relationship'”?
“Chad, what would make you feel really great to say?”
“I guess I would love to say something like, “If what you want to talk about is me, I’m not interested. I don’t want to hear about what I am doing wrong, and I don’t want to be responsible for your feelings. I’m happy to talk when you want to share yourself with me or learn about me, but not when you are blaming me for your upset.”
“That sounds great!”
“Yeah, but Debra is going to be furious.”
“So are you going to take loving care of yourself, or are you going to try to control her anger by giving yourself up and listening to her? That is just as controlling as her blaming you!”
“Oh, I never thought of it that way. I’m trying to control her when I listen to her?”
“Well, why do you listen to her when you don’t want to?”
“So she won’t get angry. I see what you mean. I am trying to control how she feels about me by giving myself up.”
“Right. It will take a lot of courage to not listen to her when she is wanting to control you, but it is the only way of moving out of your codependent system and into personal responsibility for yourself.”
How often do you listen to someone when you don’t want to? Whether it is a partner, a friend, a relative, you are trying to control their feelings when you don’t want to listen to them but you listen anyway.
Are you afraid of hurting their feelings? Are you afraid of their anger? You will have the courage to walk away only when you understand that it is not loving to yourself or to them to listen when they are blaming, judging, or in some way making you responsible for their happiness, worth, or lovability.
What about when someone is going on and on and you can’t get in a word edgewise? What does this person want from you? Most of the time they are operating from a talking addiction, using their talking to get others’ attention. They have abandoned themselves and are pulling on you to fill them up and make them feel okay. Is it your responsibility to fill them up with your attention? No, not if it is not what you want to do. So will you stay trapped in listening to them to avoid hurting their feelings, or will you take responsibility for yourself by letting them know that you are finished listening and walking away?
Listening to another is wonderful when the intent is to learn. It is much kinder to yourself to disengage when the intent is to control.