I had a conversation with my son the other day and I hung up wondering, what Marty would have said to him, did I do the things she has taught me over the years or did I do what I too often have done, in conversations. It happens a lot; I step back, replay a conversation and reach for the things Marty has taught me.
When you are married to a psychologist, you better remember your talks. I do. I remember listening to Marty and interjecting with my best direction and most trite advice. I hear her telling me, demanding, that I not tell her how to fix her problems. I remember her chaffing at me trying to tell her how she feels or that what she is feeling is a small thing; “it’s no big deal”, I would say, stupidly.
She would say, “Well I’m not experiencing a little thing; don’t make me convince you how important this is.”
She was right of course, we can’t tell others how to feel, we can’t tell others how to experience life, we can’t tell others it’s not a big deal if it’s a big deal to them. That demeans how they feel and man it used to piss Marty off. I was really quite good at that.
I listened to my son and I heard myself offering platitudes and banal stuff. I found myself reaching to my fallback position of offering platitudes and sports metaphors, neither of which really helps but it makes me feel like I am doing good work for the world.
Remarkably I caught myself and tried mightily to quit offering brilliant gems like, “Short time, long life,” you know where you try and bring perspective. That’s almost as brilliant as, “It is what it is.”
After we disconnected it occurred to me I really was doing one of the things Marty taught me to do in our relationship, listening. It’s not as easy as it sounds because I’m a fixer and I want to make things all better, I want to participate in a solution, I want to tell you what to do.
I used to do this with Marty as she would unload her day on me and I would offer sage and learned advice.
Marty, “I don’t want you to fix it, I want you to listen to me and understand me.”
Me, “But I’m just trying to help.”
Marty, “You can’t fix it, I want you to listen and understand.”
I got it. Sit and listen, really listen and make sure you use affirming words indicating you haven’t drifted off to lala land. And, please, don’t offer a cure unless asked for a cure.
That’s not exactly it either, using the affirming, listening words is a good thing, but there is that whole understanding thing, you have to listen to understand, you have to pay attention, you have to stop thinking about what pearls of wisdom will come flowing from you long enough to really listen and understand.
Daughter Erin, the frequent recipient of my pearly wisdom, has tried to coach me up too. She hears me say too often, “Well, you need to….” Yes, I admit it I tell people what they need to do. Marty did that too. The funny thing is she hated it when I did that to her or our children.
Erin, the social worker, said, “Try saying to people, “It might help if you”,” instead of, “You need to….” She’s right of course; she’s her mother’s daughter.
Truth.....what I must do, what I try to do is listen, that’s what Marty would have tried to do, she would have listened, she would have ferreted out feelings, thoughts, ideas, possible solutions, all kind of things. She would have encouraged conversation, listened and drawn out information and helped whoever she was talking to center their own thoughts.
Then she would have said, “You need to….”
She taught me how to do it; that doesn’t mean she necessarily believe just listening applied to her. She still says, “Rules are for someone else.”