Week 10: Listening & Boundaries

The skill of listening is the second half of being a good communicator. In this week's video, Cathryn and Rachel discuss tools and techniques for being a good listener. When you exercise this muscle, you’ll learn more about your partner and grow true intimacy.

The second topic for discussion is around boundaries. Boundaries are so crucial in any relationship, especially intimate ones. The more you learn to provide clear expectations through boundaries, the more trust you’ll have in your relationship.

Here's the link to the "The 3 Levels of Listening" video Cathryn mentions. Be sure to check it out after watching this week's Companion Course video.

Share below what you learned about listening and what boundaries you might not have realized you had before doing this exercise.


Cathryn (00:01):

I hope you had a great week last week. How did you implement what you learned about communication? Did you find yourself taking things that we talked about and applying them to your week? If not, I hope you will do it this week. If you did good job, this is just one part of the practice. Now, one of the huge parts of communication is the listening and the skill of listening. And that's one of the things that we're going to be discussing in this week's module.

New Speaker (00:26):

Being a good listener makes you a better partner. It also grows your love map of your partner because you're actually listening to what they say and there's so much that we say that is not in the words that we speak, but between the lines. The other topic we're going to be talking about which is very important is boundaries. Boundaries are so important in any relationship, especially your intimate relationship because they give clear expectations for each partner of what you expect from them. Unspoken or unenforced boundaries lead to separation and they lead to a loss of trust in your relationship. So let's get into talking about all this stuff with Rachel, right this second.

Cathryn (01:07):

All right, welcome back and today we're going to talk about listening and why it is so critical in relationships whether it's your intimate relationship or with friends. Let's get into listening. Hey Rachel.

Rachel (01:19):

Hey, how you doing?

Cathryn (01:21):

Great. So let's just get into it. Why is listening so important in relationships and why are we so bad at it?

Rachel (01:30):

You know, similar to so much of what we've already talked about, listening is something that we don't really learn how to do. We learn how to show people that we're listening, you know, like the quote unquote active listening of like nodding and "Uhuh uhuh" and affirming, but really listening is part of communicating. It's the receiving part of communication. You know, when we think of communication, we often think of talking or showing, and receiving is the other part of it. And we need to be able to listen to what other people are saying in order to understand them. So when we don't listen, the meaning that most of us take from that is I don't care about what you're thinking or feeling. And that feels really yucky so we suck at listening because we don't learn how to. We can learn how and once we learn how we can be even better partners, friends, parents, siblings. I mean it affects all of our relationships right? We all love to feel heard.

Cathryn (02:39):

Right. And I guess therapy and what you do is basically professional listening.

Rachel (02:45):

Yeah. I mean, I'm trained to listen for patterns, I'm trained to listen for specific inflections, you know, all of my work I actually do over the phone. My one-on-one clients are audio only. And I've read a lot of studies and through my own experience, I hear so much nuance when I'm able to completely focus in and just listen. And so we think about, you know, in day-to-day life, if we're on our phone or thinking about the grocery list, it's impossible to actually be listening right? We really need to like focus, it's hard. It's why people go to like check their phones during movies. We have an attention span issue in our culture in general not by really our fault but just by how technology is evolved and stuff.

Cathryn (03:36):

So how do you know when you are not listening at a higher level?

Rachel (03:42):

You know, because you're thinking about what you're going to say next, that's the key. So physiologically, we cannot think about what we're going to say and come up with words while fully taking in and absorbing what the other person is saying right? Those two things cannot happen simultaneously in the brain so if you catch yourself already knowing what you're going to rebut with or come back with, you're not really listening. Now, I know some of you out there are like "Okay, but what about like in a real debate, people are listening and taking notes so what are they doing?" That's different. So if you're somebody who comes up with a thought and wants to jot it down, let your partner know that. You know, often I'll have clients have notebooks in session. And so while the other person has the floor and is talking, they can take notes and jot down something rather than interrupting and starting to use their talking part of the brain rather than the listening part of the brain.

Cathryn (04:51):

We've recently come out with a YouTube video on the three types of listening. We don't want to go into that in this interview but if you're interested in those three types of listening and just becoming a better listener, we'll link that below this video. So what does listening have to do with boundaries or setting boundaries with your partner or hearing boundaries that they are trying to set with you?

Rachel (05:14):

Well, we can't hear...well, we can't, you know, we cannot put into place what we don't hear or understand. So it's really hard to respect someone's boundary when we haven't heard what that boundary is and when we're not really listening often what we hear is our interpretation. So you know, the game of telephone right? It goes from one person to another, to another and by the end it's like a completely different message than when it started. It's not necessarily intentional when that happens. It's just human nature to see things through our lens and then repeat it that way and paraphrase and eventually the meaning gets lost. So when we need to set a boundary, we need to know that the person that we're going to set it with can listen. Otherwise it doesn't feel safe to set it which sucks because boundaries are supposed to help us feel safe. So it kind of...they push up against each other because we need one to have the other and it's important. And a boundary could be, "I'm unavailable for this conversation until you're able to listen." Right? That in itself could be a boundary. Like I need a partner that can listen to me for more than 30 seconds at a time.

Cathryn (06:43):

Yup. How do we manage the fear of setting a boundary with our partner?

Rachel (06:51):

Remember that a boundary is not a wall. It is something that you have figured out for yourself to be the best you. It's something that helps bring you closer not keeps you further apart. So the fear usually is around upsetting the other person or how that person may feel in response to what we're saying. And often we project what we would feel right? So well, if somebody told me that I couldn't call them after nine, I would feel rejected. So therefore they're going to feel rejected when I tell them that you know, they can't call after nine. We project what we may feel onto them and then we create the anxiety around it and it becomes a much bigger to do than "Hey, I just wanted to let you know every night at nine, I'm leaving my phone in the other room now and I'm just not going to be on it. I just wanted you to know." You know, that's a boundary. It doesn't have to be this like I'm setting a boundary right now and the boundary is that you right...Like it feels so robotic and it's not just a statement of what we're available for or not.

Cathryn (08:14):

Can you give an example of maybe a boundary you've set with your partner?

Rachel (08:19):

Yeah, for sure. How many? How much time do we have?

Cathryn (08:22):

Just 1 to 3.

Rachel (08:22):

One boundary that I have said that has been incredibly helpful is basically blocking off time. So I have a boundary that when I'm spending quality time in a container with someone that I care about, that I'm not going to be texting other people. And so I let those other close people in my life know so that they don't feel rejected if they don't hear back from me for a longer period of time right? So a boundary is about us and not about controlling them. So it's not like "Hey, don't text me on Wednesday because I'm spending time with my partner." It's, "I'm not going to be available on Wednesday, I'm spending time with my partner."

Cathryn (09:40):

Oh, interesting. I have a boundary on Wednesdays at work that I don't do calls.

Rachel (09:46):

Ooh. See, I like that. That's about you.

Cathryn (09:51):

How do we navigate a situation where our partner doesn't agree to a boundary that's important to us?

Rachel (10:02):

So typically if somebody is pushing back on a boundary, it's either because they don't understand it or they're afraid that that boundary is going to get in the way of a need that they need met. So what I would encourage the person who is feeling icky to do is to bring that to the person who set the boundary and say "Hey, you know, I really want to respect what you said and I feel really scared that this boundary means that we're only going to have sex once a week. Can we talk about this?" And really just name what's going on and if you see the person you set the boundary with getting antsy or uncomfortable, you could be the one to name that. Like I'm noticing your shoulders, get a little tense, what are you thinking about? Is there something in what I said that feels scary or brought something up for you? And really make it a conversation rather than this is my rule and you're going to follow my rules like that's not what boundaries are.

Cathryn (11:19):

And how can you get clear on boundaries? So you said the one about, you know, not texting back with if you're with someone else. Is that something that you say once or you reiterate or there's a list somewhere of here are my boundaries.

Rachel (11:40):

I think it depends. You know, it's sometimes the things that get put into practice over and over and over again, it builds that muscle memory very quick. And so reminders aren't as necessary and then for the things that, you know, like your example right? Every Wednesday, you don't take calls. Every week that happens so maybe by the end of two months, you don't have to remind anybody. But for the first couple of weeks it's like "Hey, you scheduled me a meeting on Wednesday" like, remember I'm not doing that. So like, there's that adjustment period, just like with any shift in something and then usually, hopefully it becomes just part of what feels normal and day-to-day. And that's the hope it's not supposed to feel like this constant like wall that you're bumping up against.

Cathryn (12:34):

Yeah. Actually one of my boundaries that I didn't realize was the boundary until I was with someone that would constantly like come up against it. So my wife and I don't really text during the day. We, you know, maybe if there's a logistical thing but we generally, we don't chit chat, which we both like because we have stuff to do. And in the past I've dated people where they just wanted to text all day and I would set a boundary of like "Look I have work to do and I don't really want to chit chat all day." Because then in the evening we have stuff to talk abou and that was something that in a previous relationship was just constantly like "Why aren't you texting back? And it was having the same conversation over and over again. Obviously that relationship didn't work out. But that to me was a boundary that kept being pushed because that wasn't the behavior that I wanted, but it kept being like rejected whenever I said "No, I'm not going to be texting through the day for anything other than like a logistical item."

Rachel (13:38):

And then that ultimately puts you in the position of deciding "Okay, do I have yet another conversation about this? Um, do I let them know how I feel about it?" Because that's also vulnerable when you're already feeling like your boundaries are being violated to be like, "I feel sad." Like it feels yucky to be the vulnerable one then also, you know, and eventually people who continually cross or push our boundaries, in a healthy world, we eventually are no longer really...they're not in our lives. Those are the people that kind of, whether it's a breakup or the friendship fizzles or you know, something happens. Once we're aware of our own boundaries and have them like your work thing or my phone thing, it's a very like clear cut. Like, "Are you not getting this?" And it helps, it helps because you can have this bar for... This person didn't respect what I asked for after multiple times. And it's at that point, it's a choice of, do you want that? And in what other ways will they not respect what you asked for? You know, if they can't respect this, how else will that manifest?

Cathryn (15:01):

Have you seen some times...so I just talked about this and ultimately it didn't work out, but have you seen times where your boundary is crossed multiple times, but then eventually they either get it and then it makes the relationship stronger?

Rachel (15:16):

Absofreakinglutely! 100%! You know, it's hard for us to change. If we really take a step back and like go away from our own personal stuff, it's hard for us as adults to change our behavior. It's doable. We do it all the time. We're constantly growing and evolving and it's hard. And so if somebody is showing a commitment to trying, or they're trying to figure out a compromise or there you see that there's an effort that feels really different than someone who's just blatantly disregarding. Like, "Well, she said not between nine and five, but it's two and I want to, so here we go." Like, that's it, that's totally different than him having a really hard day and "I know that you have this boundary and I'm wondering if you have 10 minutes that we can talk?" You know, you're like, "Oh my gosh, she acknowledged my boundary." Like, "Of course I'll talk to you for 10 minutes." Great! So I have seen that. Yes. Like sometimes things do take adjusting because the longer it's been the other way, post setting boundary, it's going to take some time to, to get out of the old habits. And we have to have a little bit of grace and compassion for everybody involved in that behavior adjustment.

Cathryn (16:48):

I think one of the questions I was going to ask was, is it okay to break a boundary or give some examples, but I think you just kind of laid one out. Stating the boundary that you want to cross, but give a reason why, you know, this time, if you, if you keep doing it. So like, you know, every Wednesday or every time you're with someone that they always want to cross the boundary, that's different than an exception. So if it's an exception to the rule, I think it's okay. But if it becomes the rule like constantly, then it's more of an excuse to continue to cross a boundary.

Rachel (17:24):

Exactly. Yeah. There's a difference between, you know, in a year having someone say, "Hey, Cathryn, I know you typically don't take meetings on Wednesday. I really want to get together about this thing and I'm going to be out of town and this is the only spot. Would you be willing to make an exception?" Versus, you know, "Hey, I'm busy. So Wednesday's my only day," you know, you're like "Cool. I don't do meetings Wednesdays."

Cathryn (17:55):

Yeah. So before we go, maybe you could give some examples you've seen in couples because oftentimes I'm like, okay, what's a boundary versus a rule. Like the texting during the day thing was only something that I realized as I heard you talking, and didn't put together it was a boundary. So can you give some other examples before we wrap up? Because I want to give people that are watching this some ideas.

Rachel (18:22):

Yeah. Absolutely! I think, you know, a rule...I really hate the word rule when it comes to relationships. Rules are above us. Rules are set by someone else for us, right? Laws are rules. They get set, whether we really want them to or not. We only have so much control. And in relationships, that's not a good dynamic. A rule implies that one person is deciding it for everyone involved. An agreement on the other hand is something that both people are consenting to. A boundary falls somewhere in between because one person is stating a boundary and the other person is being asked to respect it. But again, the boundary is about them. Whereas the rule would be about the other person, right. Controlling the other person. So examples of healthy boundaries could be, you know, "Hey honey, when I'm with my girlfriends, I'm not going to reply to any texts from you."

New Speaker (19:34):

I'm not like if I...if you need me, call me. That's actually one that I have. So I have five contacts in my phone that can go past, do not disturb. Only five. They know that if they call me, they go past do not disturb. If I'm in a show theater, wherever, it's going to ring. They don't call unless it's an emergency. So my boundary is please only call if it's an emergency, because you go through right. Another one could be "Hey, you know, I I'm working from home and I don't want to talk about any relationship stuff during my work day. So you know between the hours of 10 and 7, please don't talk about anything to me. I want it to be as though I'm in the office." Things like that. Or you know, "I'm going to be going to bed early. I'd like you to join me. You don't have to, but I'm going to start going to bed around nine," even something like that is a boundary. Right. We're we're helping somebody relate to us and we're setting guidelines.

Cathryn (21:00):

Interesting. Okay. So I have more boundaries than I thought. I also like going to bed early.

Rachel (21:07):

We all do. They, they help us. We like to know where we stand and what's allowed and like how to best love our people and boundaries, help us love each other better. You know? Like I now know that you don't take meetings on Wednesdays, which means that like, if I were to send you lunch, I would probably not do it on Wednesday.

Cathryn (21:32):


Rachel (21:33):

Right. Like we learn things about people by hearing what their boundaries are. They aren't just stonewalls to keep us out. That's that's...

Cathryn (21:44):

Okay. Well, I hope that everyone's gotten a good idea of how to listen and how to set boundaries and also how to reiterate boundaries if someone doesn't understand. Because it will take a while and just be patient up to a point before you realize someone, maybe it was just not appreciating the boundaries or what's the word? Respect...respecting the boundaries. So I hope you enjoyed this. Jump into the exercise in your journal, and we will see you next week.

New Speaker (22:17):

All right. Time to do the exercise in your journal. Don't forget to use all the tools that you've learned so far in the previous weeks. This is all layered, like an onion on top of each other to make you better. As you listen to your partner, try to stay focused on them and not get lost in your own head. Not only be listening to understand how to respond to them. And when you move on to boundaries, this could seem hard, but try to have an open and honest conversation with your partner, you won't regret it. And it's also something that you might have expectations of them that you already have in place, you just haven't voiced them. So it'll make things easier when you do. All right. I'm excited for what this week has in store for you. Go jump in.