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Dr. Sandy Says

In the late 50's, Carl Rogers, a well-known psychologist, wrote about three essential attitudes in therapeutic listening: "empathic understanding," "unconditional positive regard," and "genuineness." This active listening approach is the centerpiece of the Stop, Look, and Listen Lovetool and has been used by therapists for years. It has been referred to as "reflective listening," "mirroring," "intentional listening," "empathic listening," among others.

Although there is much about this exercise that is not new, its importance in heart-to-heart communication merits repeating. Read them, practice them, and watch your intimacy grow from ordinary to extraordinary.


  1. Listening involves hearing. If you're thinking about what you're going to say next, you're not hearing your partner and you're not listening.
  2. Communication must be from the personal "I" perspective. If you begin sentences with "you always" or "you never" it encourages a defensive or reactive response.
  3. Sex is a way of communicating with each other. People who listen empathetically to their partners, and give clear messages to their partners are on their way to becoming great lovers.
  4. There are no right or wrong feelings. If one of you laughs during a particular movie and the other doesn't, who was "right?" You've probably heard someone say, "Why are you laughing. It's not funny." Feelings vary and reflect your personal reality. Each reality must be respected. When you deny another's feelings, it's natural for them to feel slighted and unimportant.

Stop, Look, and Listen... How to begin:

1. The first thing to do when you're involved in a reactive battle is to Stop. This is by far the hardest of all three steps. Each person wants to get his point across and stopping is a challenge.

2. Then one of you starts as the sharer while the other is the listener. Look at your partner. (Don't do this in the car. The car is a terrible place for intimate dialogues. People incorrectly assume they have several hours of time in a car and can use it productively. It rarely works to build intimacy. The reason for this is you can't look at each other. You also can't have intimate conversations when one person is looking at the television. Shut off the television. Unplug the telephone or turn on your answering machine. Pull up a couple of chairs and look at each other.)

3. Focus on one subject. If you let one topic snowball into another, the exercise won't work.

4. The next step is to Listen. This means to listen to the actual words and to your partner's feelings. Not what you think the other person is saying or feeling. Listen to the meaning of the words from their perspective. Try to put yourself in your partner's position as you listen. This is called enabling empathy and it's easier said than done, I assure you. It's very hard to listen to someone telling you something you'd rather not hear about yourself and to do so empathetically! The natural tendency is to interrupt, defend, explain, or protect yourself in some way. But when you deflect the message, you dilute the intimacy. Instead of thinking about your reply, say things like, "tell me more," "is there more," or "I'd like to hear more about that." Listen attentively until your partner is done.

5. Repeat what you believe you heard and how you think they feel. Ask if you're correct and listen if you're not. When the sharer is done, thank the listener for listening. The listener also thanks the sharer for sharing. This is not an easy process. It takes effort on both sides and deserves an appreciative comment. Saying thank you is an important part of the intimacy building process.

(Excerpted from Dr. Scantling's Extraordinary Sex Now: A Couple's Guide to Intimacy, Doubleday, 1998)

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