A Review of The Power of Two: Bilateral Listening

Welcome back to my review of The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. In our last post we covered the sixth basic of listening, listen to feelings. We addressed what verbalizing emotions can be like for someone as well as how it is to be on the receiving end of emotions. Today we will be diving into the seventh basic of listening to learn, use bilateral listening.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern


Multitasking, it’s something we do on a daily basis. We juggle our many roles, tasks, and responsibilities and do it the best we can. I wonder though, what people would say if I asked them how often they are juggling their own needs relative to the needs of others. This might seem like an odd question but really it is something we do all the time. When we make decisions with others and even when we decide what we communicate to others we take into consideration our needs as well of those of the other person. When we find ourselves making decisions that are reflective of only our own feelings, and concerns we are acting selfishly whereas, when we respond to someone by attending to their own needs and feelings without taking care or consideration of what our needs and feelings are in the moment we are acting altruistically.

When listening in a partnership Heitler encourages us to use bilateral listening. This means, that we hear both our own concerns and those of our partner. In doing so we can express our care for their needs. A good gage of whether or not you and your partner are using bilateral listening is if you feel like you are playing tug of war for importance in the conversation. Heitler urges us to be considerate and responsive to the needs and concerns of our partners but not in excess to where we lose our selves and don’t meet or own needs. There should be a good balance and at the end of a discussion often not a winner and a loser but two winners. To do so, we need to balance the volume of our inner thoughts, feelings, fears, preferences, desires, and concerns.

The first step in balancing the volume in our head comes from taking what we hear inside seriously. If we want to be taken seriously and to have action put to our thoughts then we need to be able to express the importance and stand our ground. The next part is ensuring that while we communicate we do not become solely focused on what is going on inside of us to the point where we miss the communicated needs and concerns of our partner. Once you can hear yourself and your partner it is about then responding with what makes sense to you and your understanding. From there, you and your partner can brainstorm together appropriate steps to take moving forward that respond to everyone’s needs.

In addition to a verbal tug of war, recognition of bullying behaviors and communication is demonstrative of a lack of bilateral listening. Bullying between partners is seen in when one person insists on getting their own way without regard for how it may impact their partner. Bullying can be recognized as criticism, raised voices, contemptuous tone of voice, and implied threats. This is allowed when one partner does not verbalize their concerns and is excessively altruistic.

Follow along as we continue to dive into The Power of Two and its use with married couples, dating relationships, and single people. Bear in mind all information provided comes as a review of Heitler’s book and from a clinician actively learning and utilizing the tools.


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