Listening is a form of agreement that the other person’s emotions are real

Padraig O’Morain: Healing depends on people knowing their feelings accepted as genuine

Listening to a man and woman arguing on the road outside at 3am recently I struggled to make out what they were saying. I heard sound and fury but not much clarity. All I remember hearing clearly, and with some relief, was the woman shouting: “Go on, yeah, walk away that’s what you always do.”

The man made some muffled reply from a few houses down as he left the scene. She flung a remark back and silence descended.

A prime example of men not being willing to listen to women’s feelings? Possibly, and I would also remark that it’s quite hard to listen to someone’s feelings when they are shouting them at you and blaming you for them, and on the public road too.

What, I wondered, were the man’s feelings? Had anybody ever listened to them? Had he ever expressed them?


If they were a couple, and I assumed they were some sort of couple, you might say that the man, under criticism, became flooded with emotion and so walked off.

Wasn’t the woman flooded with emotion to? Not really, she was certainly in the grip of her emotions but she was getting them out loud and unclear in the presence of the whole street.

By listening to someone’s emotions I don’t mean agreeing with them. I do mean, though, that listening is a form of agreement that the other person’s emotions are real even if you don’t think they ought to have them.

Accepting that somebody really feels what they say they feel can be very painful especially if it involves a verbal attack on the person trying to do the accepting.

The man might well have felt that the woman did, indeed, feel whatever she said she felt. Walking away muttering might of been a sort of acknowledgement of this, whether or not he thought it was justified. Either way, it was all too much to deal with.

In the process of being turned into tolerable human beings, we often learn the lesson that our feelings are not acceptable

You might not hold out much hope for the longevity of our couple’s relationship. Research into conflict levels in marriage in the US about 20 years ago found that a fifth of couples in the sample were described as volatile. But though they had high levels of conflict, they had middle to high levels of happiness.

However, marriages in which people were hostile to each other were the most likely to end in divorce, according to the Journal of Family Issues.

The outlook for the rowing couple who kept me awake might depend on whether you would describe them as volatile or hostile. As I had no intention of getting out of my bed in order to establish this, I must leave the question there.

Reflecting on them afterwards, it struck me that a huge amount of healing in the world depends on people knowing their feelings have been accepted by somebody else as genuine. It’s a foundation of counselling and of the change it can bring about.

In the process of being turned into tolerable human beings, we often learn the lesson that our feelings are not acceptable. Being angry with Granny, and letting her know it, might get you a sound telling off from your parents that leaves you with a clear message: being angry with Granny is wrong. It isn’t a big step from there to conclude that anger with Granny is outside the range of feelings you can have, though you wouldn’t put it that way as a child. These misunderstandings are inevitable because the work of socialisation has to be done by parents.

For reasons like this it can come as a huge relief later in life when another person accepts that your feelings are real and genuine, even if they do not necessarily agree with them.

As for our couple, I wish them all the best and I would suggest that they take another route home in future and regale somebody else with their issues.