Listening is critical. Here is my story.
Jyothi and I got married in 1988. Ours was an arranged marriage and Jyothi had stepped into a new joint family. For any new couple, the initial period of immersion calls for understanding the new or altered family dynamics and protocols. It also means contributing to any changes needed for the smooth running of the home.
We used to go for long and relaxed walks regularly inside our apartment complex and in the nearby park. There was so much to share. There were lots of new things for Jyothi and I was her point of reference to understand how things worked in our home. I had many things to share too. We were embarking on a new voyage together. There were new developments on my work front. She was also managing her career at that time. She was facing new challenges such as the long commute from the new residence. Our walk together was a great opportunity to share our thoughts and plans.
From our discussions, I was getting the sense that there were no issues and that Jyothi was very comfortable in the new family setting until one particular Saturday.
On that Saturday evening, we began our walk. As I got talking, I observed that Jyothi was unusually quiet. We would have walked for about 20 minutes in the park when we passed by a bench and Jyothi asked if she could talk to me about something. She suggested that we sit on the bench.
We sat down on the bench. It was getting dark. The summer evening breeze was blowing gently.
All was not well
She began talking. One thing led to another and she began sobbing. There was a series of issues that she was facing at home and at her office. Many of these related to the new family dynamics. Some were about the changes to her routine. I was quite taken aback. Not being prepared for this conversation. I did not have any ready answers for her issues.
I also realized that the issues Jyothi was bringing up had occurred quite some time back. We had been going on such walks pretty regularly. Why weren’t these brought up earlier? However, wisdom prevailed upon me and I just listened. At the end of some 30 minutes, one thing was clear – we would have to go through all this together and find our answers. She regained her composure and we returned home.
That bench-in-the-park moment was a turning point for me. It taught me several things – not to assume that things are in control just because no issues are being brought up, to listen fully without interrupting or confronting, to be willing to listen even if there is no solution in sight and worse, if I was the cause of the issue, and to empty the cup of issues and grievances of my life partner at regular intervals.
Bench in the park
Ever since we have had numerous bench-in-the-park conversations. In the initial years, we would actually sit on a bench and I would ask her if there were any issues she was facing. We were happy that many of the older issues were not resurfacing which meant that we were making progress. Over so many years, the bench-in-the-park has become more of a metaphor. We regularly have conversations to air our grievances and together discover or invent a solution. These bench-in-the-park moments have greatly helped us in our meandering journey of 30 years of marriage.
Today in many families, conversations are limited to obtaining status updates, making it sound like a project update meeting. Some of us do not wish to hear any grievance lest we may have to take a stand and take on the issue. ‘Paucity of time’ seems like an attractive euphemism for a lack of commitment. Some of us operate with a ‘know-all’ air and talk down to our spouse. Some of us may have carefully cultivated a personality of an explosive, exploding with anger at the slightest provocation. This keeps the spouse in a perennially agreeable state, thereby avoiding the need for a conversation to resolve issues.
Nowadays, we have so many communication tools but very little communication. By the way, communication includes listening. I would say that without open conversations, there is a real risk of many old unresolved issues piling up and the partners slowly drifting apart – only the individuals will know if such a drift is happening. One flash point is all it takes for the drift to lead to a separation. Such bench-in-the-park conversations assume critical importance to cement the relationship.
What about you? Are you having your bench-in-the-park conversations with your most critical stakeholder? If not, think of starting one today.
If you haven’t had such conversations, a bench-in-the-park conversation is sure to surprise, if not, shock you.
Here’s wishing your life journey lots of open air and an open ear.
In other words, a bench-in-the-park.
By K. S. Ramanan