Your Third Ear l July 2015
You’re at a party. Alcohol is flowing. After a half-hour chatting with others, you spot your partner across the room and meander over. Almost instantly, she complains that you’ve abandoned her. Her tone is surprisingly harsh. Do you hear the likely sound of alcohol influencing what she’s saying, and making it impossible — you know this from experience — to have a productive conversation?
You’re fixing dinner when your partner comes home. Immediately you sense his tenseness. Your greeting receives a short, curt reply. He asks if you’ve brought in the mail, then quickly turns away. Do you hear the likely sound of a rough day, or maybe bad commute traffic, coloring his words and tone?
The two of you are debating a decision that needs resolution by the end of the week. The conversation has deteriorated; you’re both frustrated and tired. Your partner erupts with hurtful words of criticism and anger. Do you hear the sound of her emotional brain hijacking her logical brain? (see Two Brains)
We all have a Third Ear, but we don’t always use it. The Third Ear hears beyond the surface words to a spouse’s underlying mood or emotions. With our Third Ear we’re like an audience listening while staying in our seats, never climbing onto the stage to join the drama. While hearing something potentially button-pushing, the Third Ear’s signal reminds us to refrain from taking the bait … and to aim for Being Smart instead of Being Right (see Right Versus Smart).
Here’s what listening with the Third Ear might lead us to say in the examples above:
- Let’s talk about this in the morning. For now, I’ll stay by your side.
- Do I detect difficult feelings right now? Talk to me, tell me what’s going on.
- We’re both worked up right now. Let’s take a break and continue the conversation after we’ve calmed down.
To listen with our Third Ear, we need to control our own emotional reactivity, our tendency to get quickly hooked by our partner’s words or tone. That can only be done by moving slowly, as it takes the Third Ear — compared to our customary hearing — a bit more time to “hear” what’s going on. In the next Couples Tip of the Month, we’ll tackle the question of how to slow ourselves down.