You’re Not Listening

by Dorothie & Marty Hellman

DOROTHIE: My not feeling heard was at the root of many of the arguments that Marty and I used to have. And, as I look back, I suspect that much of his anger and frustration was also at not feeling heard, though he tended not to use those words.

MARTY: I was so out of touch with my feelings earlier in our relationship that I can’t imagine having said, “I don’t feel heard.” I would have put it in some more “logical” framework like, “You’re wrong!”

DOROTHIE: One day, after making a lot of progress, but still far from where we are today, we got into an argument over something so “important” that neither of us can remember what it was about. What both of us vividly remember, and what was really important, was the surprising way in which we moved past the previously insurmountable barrier of my not feeling heard.

MARTY: As the argument progressed, Dorothie told me what I’d heard a million times before: “You’re not listening!” So I told her what I’d also said a million times before: that she was wrong, and that I had heard every word she’d said.

We went through a few more iterations of her exclaiming, “You’re not listening!” followed by my loudly asserting, “Yes, I am! My ears are open. What do you want me to hear? Just say it.”

In the past, each such iteration would have made both of us more frustrated and angry. But we had made enough progress at this point that, while Dorothie was determined to be heard, she did not get mad at me. She dug her heels in but did not attack me.

DOROTHIE: Operating at that more mature level allowed Marty to do something that created a crack in the old dam of resentment. He asked me how I knew that he wasn’t listening. I told him that, if he were listening, he’d be behaving differently.

MARTY: At first, Dorothie’s reply didn’t seem to help, since I had no idea what I could do differently. Exasperated, I told her, “I’m doing everything I can humanly think of to hear you, but there must be something else I could do, since you’re still not feeling heard. What is it?”

I didn’t really expect an answer, but to my amazement, Dorothie replied, “You just did it.”My immediate reaction was confusion and disbelief. What had I done to make her feel heard?

DOROTHIE: Initially, my response surprised me every bit as much as it did Marty. I had thought I wanted him to hear whatever I’d been saying about the source of the argument—the thing both of us have since forgotten. But what I really wanted was for him to stop denying my reality. I didn’t need him to agree with me since I, too, can be wrong. But I needed him to be open to what I was saying and feeling. I needed him to have compassion for my point of view. I needed him to “get curious, not furious.”

MARTY: After a moment of disbelief that such a small shift could have cracked this seemingly uncrackable nut, I realized the genius of what Dorothie had just said. As long as I told her that she was wrong about not feeling heard, I might be hearing the words coming from her mouth, but I was not listening to the deeper message coming from her soul. I really was not listening.

DOROTHIE: What you just said highlights another important point in the resolution of this argument. I had said, “You’re not listening,” but what I really meant was, “I don’t feel heard.” In a way, you were right. You were listening to my words. But as you just pointed out, you were deaf to the deeper message coming from my soul. Thanks for translating for me

Dorothie Hellman :

Celebrate what presents itself.

Accept what you can’t celebrate.


Billy’s Comments:

The above was taken from Dorothie and Martin Hellman’s book “ A New Map For Relationships.” Creating True Love & Peace On The Planet.   You can download a free PDF or buy a hard copy at Amazon.

I had the honor of meeting this amazing couple at their talk at USCPFA-S.Bay a few years ago. It was most inspiring to find two individuals from very different cultural backgrounds willing to share their very private dilemmas with the rest of us. I learned from them that arguments do not solve problems. Only deep listening and understanding of the other person‘s heart and feelings may help build Love & Peace on Earth.


 “… a truly unique book that tells an engaging and persuasive story relating domestic peace to world peace. This book should be read by married couples seeking peace at home, as well as by diplomats seeking peace in the world.” —William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense 1994–1997