Listen, Learn, and Love - 3 Keys to Harmony

Dr. Joan's Advice

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Dr. Joan's Advice

Date: 02/24/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Be First to Forgive

Dear Forgiving Auntie:

You brought me to tears when I read about your niece who refuses to see you, or let you see her new baby. She is miffed with you ... really more than miffed. She resents what she views as an insulting remark you made about her way of life. I’ll not get into her chosen way of living in this response, but I will address it another time. Today I want to focus on the silence between the two of you.

What did you say to your niece that caused her to take such great umbrage? Whatever it was, she obviously interpreted your words to be hurtful toward her. But you believe that you had no such intent. Sometimes we speak so quickly that we fail to choose our words carefully. Could that have been what happened?

I know that you have phoned her to explain and apologize, but your niece will not speak civilly to you. In fact, she has told you not to call again and not to come to her apartment. On the occasion of that call, her words and tone were caustic and hurt you deeply.

Both of you are profoundly unhappy. But take heart. I know of one sure way to start the healing, and you’ve already done it - Forgive.

Let’s talk about forgiveness. Mark Twain wrote: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Kudos to you, Auntie, because you have forgiven your niece for her caustic words that crushed your heart. You are the adult in this duo, by age, and by your actions. You may not believe this now, but by forgiving your niece, you have started the healing cycle.

First, you will heal your own heart. Your sadness will gradually dissipate. Continue in your own way of living and loving. Take every occasion (holidays, her birthday, the baby’s birthday, and other special days you shared with her in the past) to write her a note or just send a card. Never give up.

One day you will be surprised and happy when your niece calls or stops by, with her baby. You’ll see. It will happen. It is the second natural part of the healing cycle.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Be the first to forgive.

Date: 02/17/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Letter from the Bear Family - Fourth Response

Dear Grown-Up Cub and Hubby (Parents of Young Cub):

For a while, you have been practicing how to listen and talk with each other. So how is the SEE-SAW working? Are you getting better at listening to each other and learning about each other? Have you quietly discussed the problem you face with Young Cub? Have you truthfully told each other how you feel when Young Cub plays one of you against the other?

If you answered YES, then it is time to take the next step toward improving the harmony in your family. The three of you (mother, father, and daughter) are going to embark on an adventure of a life time into the land of Harmony Keys.

STEP ONE, A VERBAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN PARENTS: As the parents, you will make a verbal agreement to act in unison with Young Cub. In this agreement, you will promise each other that you will make all decisions together with regard to Young Cub. There must be immediate cessation of your daughter playing one of you against the other. Respond to Young Cub as follows: “We will discuss it.” “Your mother and I will talk about it and let you know.” “Your father and I will discuss it.” This step is essential to a calm household. Starting now will preserve everyone’s sanity.

STEP TWO, A WRITTEN CONTRACT WITH YOUNG CUB: When you have learned to act as “one” with respect to Young Cub, it will be time to write a contract with her. Included in the contract will be expectations (behavior at home, chores, behavior at school, homework, etc.) Spell out concrete details - avoid generalities. Make it clear that when Young Cub meets the terms of the contract she will be rewarded. Positive reinforcement of good behavior (meeting the contract) is all that is needed. There should be no mention of punishment. When she messes up, Young Cub becomes part of the solution. It time to talk and time for Young Cub to understand what went wrong and how she plans to improve.

Here we go again. Listening is the key ... listening, talking it over, and reassuring Young Cub that her parents love her. Only when we engage in supportive times of listening do we build and strengthen the deepest ties that humans can have.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Each time I listen to another, a listening star is born to shimmer forever in the sky.

Date: 02/12/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Letter from the Bear Family - Third Response

Dear Grown-Up Cub:

Did Mama Bear call you and arrange for some time together? Did she ask you how you’re feeling, what you’re enjoying, and what your challenges are? Did you open your heart and mind to Mama Bear while she listened quietly to you? Did you ask Mama Bear how she is doing and how she sees things? You know, Mama Bear has years of experience to share and wisdom to offer. Did you listen to her responses with patience and interest?

This SEE-SAW process of listening to each other and learning about each other is called ACTIVE LISTENING.

It may take many months of non-confrontational interaction between you and Mama Bear before the two of you develop a trust that will last a lifetime. Just keep it going, and remember to sprinkle your get-togethers with many “I love you!” affirmations, back and forth.

Then it will be your turn, Grown-Up Cub, to take the initiative! It is your responsibility to carry your listening skills into your partnership with your husband. Rest assured you will be able to do just that! You will realize, from your talks with Mama Bear, that ACTIVE, SEE-SAW LISTENING, when practiced by both partners, leads to a strong, supportive relationship. With self-confidence you will ask your husband to sit with you in a quiet atmosphere where you will practice mutually supportive conversation. As described above, no one gives orders, no one makes demands. All judgmental thinking/talking is banned! Both of you will have the respect and courtesy to listen/learn from each other. It does take practice.

Also, you will remember that it is important to tell your husband, often, that you love him.

So, Grown-Up Cub, this exercise I have described is in preparation for the final adventure that you, your husband, and your little daughter will take as a family. I will describe that adventure when next we meet, here in the land of the Harmony Keys.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: If you stand on your hands, all the coins fall out of your pockets. If you stand on your own two feet, you hear more, see clearly, and speak with a soft voice.

Date: 02/12/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Trust

Dr. Joan's Harmony Key:

Trust yourself. Commit to yourself that you will take responsibility.

Date: 02/08/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Second Response to Letter from the Bear Family

Dear Mama Bear:

Mama Bear, I have a question for you. How much effort have you and Papa Bear put into the listening/learning/loving exercise I outlined last week? Papa Bear offered some comments (below) that indicate the two of you may need to erase a lot of old habits of second-guessing each other, reading minds, and silence! Building new, productive communication skills may take weeks, even months. Nevertheless, carry on!

When you feel confident in the listening/learning/loving “triple whammy” style of communication, then please consider what I offer as next steps for the Bear family.

Mama Bear, you are the keystone for change in the relationship with Grown-Up Cub. No matter how you cut it, you must be the person to make the approach and the offer. What do I mean by “approach and offer?”

First, approach Grown-Up Cub by calling her and inviting her to do something with you, just the two of you. Make it something you know she values, adores, etc. Arrange the time together so you have the opportunity to talk.

Practice ahead of the meeting the way you will present your offer to Grown-Up Cub. Your offer will be to listen to Grown-Up Cub. I’m not kidding. It is that simple. Tell her straight out that you want to listen to what she has to say. AND you will keep your promise that you will avoid comments that are critical, judgmental, or negative. AND, when Grown-Up Cub gets to the point, over time, of ASKING for your opinion, you will remember to respond with loving, kind, positive words.

Mama Bear, you know that the mother/daughter bond runs deep and strong. You already have a beautiful bond with your youngest cub. But somehow, that bond with Grown-Up Cub is less developed or perhaps broken. You and Grown-Up Cub will have to dig through years of prior misconceptions about each other in order to strengthen your bond. The two of you will need many get-togethers using the triple whammy technique.

You love Grown-Up Cub and your goal is to gradually develop a TRUSTING relationship with her. You WILL succeed.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: The triple whammy (listen/learn/love) hits a home run!

Date: 02/01/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Letter from the Bear Family

Dear Papa Bear and Mama Bear:

Based on your lovely note from your “cottage in the woods,” I am going to reply in four separate responses. This is my first reply in which I am recommending a single strategy to help each of you strengthen your basic listening skills:

1. Mama Bear needs to talk about her feelings, her fears, and her hopes for her children and grandchildren. She is deeply troubled by her relationship, or lack of it, with one of her grown-up cubs.

2. There’s one person in this world Mama trusts more than anyone else and that is you, Papa Bear. So guess who is going to listen to Mama Bear? Yup. You. And I mean listen. No judging, no commenting, until she asks you what you think. So pull up those two chairs around the breakfast table, dish up the porridge, pour the coffee, and ask Mama “How are you feeling today about ...” Let her talk.

3. Mama, at some point, will ask you, “Papa, what do you think about that?” Then the door opens and the delicate process begins of listening to and learning from each other. Mama speaks, asks for feedback, and becomes the listener. Papa replies, asks for feedback and becomes the listener. Like a see-saw, the process continues while both partners gain strength, self-confidence, and insight into what is troubling one or the other, or both. My guess is that you are both worried about the relationship with grown-up cub.

4. As you each increase your abilities to listen to and learn from and about each other, there is one final bolt that holds the whole process together: LOVE. Remember to tell each other, often, how much you love each other. You may disagree on some points that come out in the process of listening and learning, but regardless, you always confirm that your love is unwavering, without question.

The next time I write to you, I will discuss how to spark and strengthen the relationship with grown-up cub. How well you do that, will depend on how hard you work on the strategy I’ve just described, because you will need those skills big-time.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key:

Sometimes the mouth needs to close in order to hear well.

Date: 01/24/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Stop Old Man Jealousy in His Tracks

Dear Jealous Hubby:

You call yourself Jealous Hubby, but let me say that you should call yourself a rare man. You wrote to me about your feelings and that means you have taken the first step toward healing yourself and improving the relationship with your wife.

You say that your wife, who is 20 years younger than you, seems to light up around men who are closer to her own age, but she is more subdued with you. You’ve acted on your frustration. When inviting couples to join you in social gatherings, you’ve tried to manipulate who gets invited so as to exclude the males in question. Your wife has protested.

Stop right there. Has your wife been faithful and respectful in your marriage? If so, she may be more subdued with you because she feels comfortable and safe in your company. She trusts you to love her just as she is. If she is effusive with others, that may be her way of creating a joyous atmosphere in a social setting. Trust your wife.

Your first assignment is to tell your wife: “Honey, I love you.” Simple as that. And repeat it again and again. Your love for your wife is the harbinger of your trust in her.

Your second assignment is to work on yourself. Your jealousy might stem from your own insecurities. Tell yourself, “I am a loving husband with deep feelings and I am a rare man because I express my feelings!”

Now I’m trusting you, Rare Man, to carry out these assignments.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Jealousy dies when Trust is born.

Date: 01/06/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Mom Promises Teen a Car

Dear Broken Promise:

You write that you promised your 16 year old son a car if he earned top grades last year, which he did. Now he wants the car and you feel obligated to buy it for him. However, you’ve recently been laid off and debts are piling up.

My first question is: Does he “need” or just “want” a car?

Start your discussion by talking about “need.” There is a difference between “need” and “want.” When I was a teen, one of my cousins needed a car because her family lived on a ranch which was considerable distance from school. In those days there was no school bus provided by her district. Yes, she got the car AND a special license because she was only 15 at the time!

My second question is: Has he earned the money to buy his car and pay for the upkeep?

I know the answer, but my point is that you and he must discuss the expense of buying and owning a car. Be truthful about your finances and the fact that you may not qualify for a car loan. You may be surprised to learn that he prefers to save and make this purchase on his own. By doing so, he will gain knowledge about the realities of money and ownership.

We all make promises with good intentions. But we have no control over circumstances that can change in the blink of an eye. Your son will understand and your relationship will be stronger when you “come clean.”

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: We keep our promises to the best of our ability.

Date: 12/28/2012

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Making Eye Contact

Dear Look-Away:

Thank you for telling me about the anxiety you feel when you look into someone else’s eyes. You feel that your avoidance of eye contact has led to disharmony in all of your relationships. I can offer two exercises which may bring relief and strengthen your confidence each time you put them into practice:

(1) WHILE THE OTHER PERSON SPEAKS: While a person speaks to you, look, listen, and breathe. Tell yourself, privately, "My job is to look into the person’s eyes and listen carefully, while breathing slowly and deeply." You will gradually feel comfortable. You will find, over time, you will feel relaxed and able to think clearly. Do Exercise (1) for at least two weeks, before starting Exercise (2) and keep a chart of when and how long you practiced, and with whom.

(2) WHILE YOU SPEAK: Plan ahead to speak FOUR words and look directly into the eyes of the other person. For example, let’s say you have a conversation about work habits. Privately, in your mind, you might plan to say "I will try that." Of course, what you plan to say has to fit the context of the discussion, but the construction of the sentence will come easily to you. Tell yourself, "I am going to say these FOUR words and look into the other person’s eyes while I speak." I guarantee that if you practice this exercise, over time, you will be able to lock eyes with your friend, and speak at the same time. Your ability to carry on a natural conversation will grow. Keep a chart as described for Exercise (1).

Because Exercise (1) will help you develop conscious, slow breathing and boost your self-confidence, you will learn to think clearly and understand how to have relaxed interaction with others. Thus, I recommend that you practice Exercise (1) before initiating Exercise (2).

Please let me know your progress.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Eyes lead to the soul where harmony dwells, but only if you look.

Date: 12/16/2012

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Words for the Grieving

Dear Friend of the Grieving:

It is never easy to know what to say to someone whose loss rips open her very soul. Bless you for the tender words you offered to your friend on the death of her grandchild. Rest assured that she is not pushing you away, but she is momentarily caught in the natural whirlpool of her own sorrow. When a dear one passes, it becomes crystal clear that we all hang by the thin thread of mortality. Part of our grief is for the one has left us, and part of it is for ourselves who must remain behind. Both types of grief are entirely appropriate. As she continues to sort through her feelings, remain steadfast in your love for your friend. Reassure her that you are close by and ready to listen.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: The wounded heart is mended by soft words.

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