One of my wellness goals is to be a good listener. I’m pretty good when I’m well, but when I get revved up, I’m not good at it at all. All I can do is talk about myself, get defensive, and give criticism instead of support. Men, in general, struggle with listening because we are problem solvers. That’s how we support. We offer solutions. But often women don’t want a solution, they want to be listened to.
Recently, my wife and I took a long walk. This is our time to share a little more in depth than usual. We take a good 30 or 40 minutes or more. Lately, she’s done the talking which gives me a good chance to practice being a good listener.
I’ve recently become an AA sponsor, and I’ve learned a few things about supporting someone. Sometimes, it’s my job to tell him what to do, but mostly it’s me working with him to solve problems. I’ve learned to help him draw out his own wisdom with prompting sorts of questions.
That’s all well and good, but within five minutes of the walk I was shouting. I don’t even remember what about, but my afternoon Seroquel had not yet kicked in. But as we walked, I was able to zone into being a support just like I have been for my sponsee. I decided that I would treat her as a sponsee except for the part where I tell her what to do.
I listened and reflected which means I repeated back to her what I understood her to be saying and asked if I got it right. Then I began asking prompting questions once and awhile. How does that make you when our daughter acts that way? Do you resent her? Do you blame me for her bipolar. Even a little bit? And then I validate her feelings.
Wowsers, I sound like Mister Right! But alas, this is very hard for me to do when I am struggling with manic symptoms. Right now, I’m in an accepting mode. There is no perfect cocktail of meds anymore…at least not since February. I have to learn what most other bipolars are trying to learn: how to deal with periods of mania without the full support of meds.
When my wife shares her feelings, I get defensive. All I hear is blaming. I get agitated and loud. And when I say loud, I mean trained opera singer loud. And she is very sensitive to loud sounds. I feel terrible later. In those situations, I start off wanting to be helpful, but it quickly goes awry.
One strategy we’re trying is not to engage in conversation until my afternoon dose kicks in. I come home, take my medicine, practice music, then make dinner. By the time that is done I’m cool as a cucumber. We haven’t figured out weekends, though. It’s a different pattern.
So now we have our walks after dinner when I can listen. The remaining problem is that I don’t perceive her as wanting to listen to me. My wife has been subjected to so much with suicide attempts, adultery, verbal abuse, crazy letters to her parents, and public embarrassment so much that she has decided it’s her turn to be selfish. I haven’t argued with that. How can I?
But the truth is that I ask little of a partner when it comes to service and she gives little. So, it works most of the time. It’s not that I wish she would give more, it’s when she asks for too much of me that I throw it back in her face. This happens far less. I’m getting better at saying no when I need to say no.
For now, I want to be the listener. After all, she’s had to listen to my crazy bullshit for over half her ever loving life.