Listening Partnerships are a wonderfully supportive way to gain clarity in your parenting. When things at home feel strained, five or 10 minutes with a trusted listening partner can be just what we need to return to our families more open, more creative, and with more energy.
Before you begin a Listening Partnership, you might like to review the booklet Listening Partnerships for Parents, and then establish a trial period of between four to eight sessions. The following framework will go a long way to ensure good, warm connections grow.
Establishing Trust in Your Listening Partnership
Take the first few sessions to develop trust and hone your own listening skills. Whether you meet in person, online, or over the phone, keep the following in mind when you connect:
- Listen with warmth and respect, and offer your complete attention
- Trust that your attention will make a difference
- Trust in your partner's intelligence
- Don't advise or judge
- Keep what is said confidential
While you get used to listening and being listened to, it can be helpful to spend your exchanges reviewing your life up to this moment. Tell what brought you to the partnership, and the hopes, the disappointments, and grievances that have shaded your life so far.
Delve back to your own childhood memories and talk about them. Try, if you can, to recall what you felt during these earliest moments, and evaluate what went well, and not so well, for you.
Setting Up a Sound Framework
Beginning each session by mentioning something going well in your life, gives a moment of lightness and a break from the tension you are carrying. End each session by asking your partner, as her time comes to an end, a simple “refresher question,” that brings them back from their concerns and feelings to more neutral topics. Try questions like these:
- What are the names of five types of flower?
- What is your favorite food?
- How many square things can you see right now?
Use these first meetings to build the level of connection and understanding between you. After three or four sessions, that safety and trust should feel established.
Noticing When Your Listening Partnership Is Going Well
By now, you both should feel comfortable in laughing and encouraging laughter if and when it comes up. Some silence while you notice your feelings is welcomed, as well as crying when you focus on vivid details of your grief.
You should feel increasingly free, as trust develops between you both, to release deep feelings, to make whatever noises or movements that you discover feels helpful in releasing tension, as well as feeling safe to work on anger, tension, or frustration you might be holding onto.
When listening partnerships feel supportive and beneficial you should feel able to:
- Talk freely
- Keep silent as you explore feelings
- Laugh, and be encouraged to laugh
- Show anger and dark feelings
During each exchange, remind your partner they are good, caring, and striving to do their best. Encouraging them to take pride in what they do is supportive.
When to Move On From a Listening Partnership
Most times, you can expect the first session or two to feel a little awkward as you work to build your connection, but by your third or fourth session, those feelings should be giving way to warmth and comfort.
But like other relationships, sometimes that “click” doesn’t happen. What to do?
First, look to the Listening Partnership guidelines for help. Is one person giving advice or referring back to things you’ve mentioned before? Is there casual chit-chat taking place? If you remind each other of the structure and guidelines that make a listening exchange safe, that might ease any difficulties or awkwardness.
Sometimes we bring the very patterns of our childhood right into our Listening Partnership. You might feel that you are not doing it right; You are not good enough or that your partner is judging you. We call this being triggered – when the current situation is bringing up some old hurts and patterns from the past.
As long as your partner is following the guidelines of NO advice, NO referring and giving you their undivided warm attention, it’s possible to consider that old feelings from the past are being kicked up.
It is also possible to use this partnership to work on those old feelings.
The solution is to immediately work on the past. Rather than exploring what might be “wrong” with this partnership, you can ask yourself, ‘When have I felt like this before? What are my earliest memories of feeling this way?’
You may not have to “change” or end the partnership. You can use your feelings and fears about the partnership to work on old hurts from the past.
Still, there are times when a Listening Partnership may not feel right. You may both be following the Guidelines, but perhaps you knew each other previously and it’s tough to break the old patterns of your relationship. Or your old hurts and life stories are too similar and trigger strong reactions so that it’s difficult to feel safe.
There are many reasons why a Listening Partnership might not feel right. And that’s OK.
As you come to the end of your trial period, consider whether or not you want to move on. Let your partner know what you appreciate about them and about the experiment you have done together. Then, be honest with yourself and your partner about how you see things progressing. You might try for a further few Listening Partnerships or you might give your partner appreciation for the qualities you see in them, and move on.
Even the brief work you have done together will have been useful, but you will both feel the most benefit when you feel really free to share whatever is on your mind. That might mean looking elsewhere for a Listening Partnership, and you should not feel discouraged. That safety and support is your reward for the intense and good work that you do as a parent.
Get help with your personal parenting challenges from a Hand in Hand instructor in our online and in-person Starter Classes. Your chance to meet a small group of like-minded parents, apply Hand in Hand's five tools to your family and get started with listening time. Find out more about Hand in Hand Parenting Starter Classes