Why being truly heard is such a gift

I took last week off to enjoy the week my wedding was supposed to happen. After ten years as a couple we wanted to celebrate our love for each other, the shared commitment and trust. We wanted to show gratitude for every beautiful moment that we experienced together. We wanted to dance and laugh with those people who shaped us as individuals and as a couple. Then Covid-19 hit.

Everything goes downhill

In Austria, the most significant day was March 13th, when our government announced strict regulations to ensure everyone’s health. The day before, we’d bought my partner’s wedding suit. Now, suddenly everything was under question. We started to adapt our plans. We reduced the number of guests, opting for online presence but kept hoping.

Two weeks later, the Austrian government explicitly forbid weddings with more than 5 guests. When I heard that news I turned my phone off. I was not ready to face the questions, ideas, or commiserations of my friends and family. I just cried.

In this moment I realized how important this celebration was for me. A ritual of celebrating love and therefore the essence of live itself, had to be cancelled due to an invisibly deadly power.

Almost two days later I started to look at my messages again. I started answering my phone.

Listening as a habit

99% of my phone or video calls followed the same pattern: People asking if it was true that everything had to be cancelled. They stated that they felt sorry for us/me. Then there were some variations:

Some tried to comfort me: “It’s not lost forever. You can wait another year. It does not make a difference.” “You do the right thing, you cannot put anyone in danger.”

Some tried to put it into perspective: “It’s only a wedding.” “There are people facing far more impact by Covid-19 than you.” “Think about people who’s health is in danger, who loose their job…”

Some tried to help with their ideas how to solve this issue: “Don’t worry, you can still get married, just choose 5 guests.” “You can elope, go someplace and do it”. “You can have an online celebration.”

I began to realize why I’d shut off my phone before. Why I was afraid to “face my friends and family”. All were trying to be supportive. Talking to them did not help me though. It was more something I had to to.

I new that I had options to postpone. Still, I was f***ing sad that it did not work out. Yes, I was aware that other people had far more problems to deal with. Still, I was heartbreakingly disappointed that this special day of my life wouldn’t take place. Also, I knew that I could change the setup of the celebration. But this would have contradicted the whole purpose of the wedding. We didn’t care about the papers or the rings. We wanted to celebrate something so special with everyone who had some part in it.

So in all conversations I took on this “yes, but”-role explaining (partly defending) our point of view.

It’s a blessing to be truly heard >> ❤

There was one conversation that went differently though. My friend Hailey gave me time to tell her about our decisions and our reasons. Then she was quiet. After some time she just said: “I am so sorry for you guys. I know how much you wanted this to happen. I am truly sorry. Shit, you must feel terrible.”

As I was really sad, I started to cry a bit. She just kept repeating how sorry she was for us and how shitty this situation is.

After some minutes, I suddenly felt more energetic. Like “now it’s time to do something about it”. I started to tell her how we could still create something special, what would be positive aspects of this situation and how we could find creative solutions for the next try.

The science behind

I became curious why this one conversation was so different from all the others. Why this one call gave me more energy and positivism than all the others that had drawn my energy.

In cognitive psychology this phenomenon is called “emphatic listening”. The difference to “normal” listening is, that emphatic listening happens with an open heart. It allows to experience a situation through another persons eyes and establishing an emotional connection. As a listener you connect with the experience of the other person. It is a way of honoring each other and gives us the feeling of being fully heard.

There is a super-cute video showing this effect and explaining what I experienced from the movie Inside Out.

When you feel fully heard, this is when the healing starts. You find a space where new thoughts are possible and new ideas emerge. This is also reflected in Otto Scharmer‘s concept of 4 levels of listening:

It is this kind of conversations that make the difference in a person’s live. I am so grateful that Hailey listened to me that way. It turned out to be such a valuable talk for me.

Having experienced this feeling of being fully heard in such a situation, someone offering to share the pain for a minute was a grateful and graceful experience.

So I decided to offer this gift to other people as well. I work on my listening skills and practice emphatic listening so that maybe another person can make a similar experience after talking to me.

What about the wedding?

Maybe you wonder how things turned out in the end. Despite the fact that strict regulations were lifted shortly before the wedding date, we decided to postpone for a year.

We were so lucky that we found a great date. We kept celebrating our original wedding date though. We spent some time in a nice hotel at a beautiful lake, we took time off together, we had a lovely couples shooting, we drank Champaign and our families delivered wedding cakes for us. We couldn’t have been more happy.