Roses, chocolate and attentive listening – gifts for Valentine’s Day

Published in Blog on February 14th 2022

By Honor Rhodes

Valentine’s Day arrives, well trailed by heart-shaped balloons and fancy chocolates, cards with messages of love and doting that are often words we would not say ourselves. But if we take a moment to think amongst the clamour and the contactless payments, what is it our true love wants from us? And what do we long for in return?

One of the most important things we all want from our partners, lovers, wives and husbands is a sense of being known, deeply, and being cherished, despite our flaws and idiosyncrasies. We try to reciprocate and show our partners or spouses the same in return. But how is the knowing to be gained and sustained?

Listening attentively seems to be the key. We need to hold in our minds the idea that our partner is both known and unknown to us - we can’t assume that we know what they are thinking, what they will say and what they will do. We need to give them both the space and the permission to surprise us.

We need to encourage them to be expansive, to explore more profoundly the thoughts they have about themselves, us and our relationship. Just as the parent of a newborn or tiny infant ‘attunes’ to the baby, so we need to attune to our partners. We show our intention by the way we listen, not a “Yes, do go on, I am listening” from a face looking at a phone, a paper or the TV.

Listening is a full body sport - our posture, our face and our proximity need to show our readiness to put all other considerations aside and to attend to them alone in this moment.

We need to be ready to suspend judgements, advice, argument or debate. We need to offer an amicable and loving quietness. This doesn’t mean we need to agree with our partner but we do need to show that we have truly heard what they have said, perhaps by offering a summary with the emotions that they are showing us too. We can do this tentatively if we are uncertain: “I think that you are telling me that it’s fine to watch the sport on Saturday as long as we have things planned to do together as well. I wonder if you are also telling me that Saturdays can feel a bit like a waste for you and you’d like us to be more spontaneous but now you don’t really feel able to suggest things like that. Is that in any way right?”

Our partner may disagree and we may have got it all wrong. They may disagree even if we have got it right and they may agree partially or fully - we can’t know until we try.

We are also showing our partner what we’d like from them: someone to attend to us, who can tolerate not rushing in with quickfire suggestions of what needs to happen or how we have something wrong. We need and want the chance too, to speak our thoughts out loud, see how they sound and add to them in ways that are hard to do on our own, inside our own heads.

So, by all means, gather up roses, cards, champagne and balloons but it pays to remember that one of the most important gifts we can give costs nothing but time, kindness and our undivided attention.

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