A Marriage Strategy for Successful Communication

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Show don’t Tell

When my wife recently challenged my purchase of a new laptop (top end with all the bells and whistles) with a “did we really need to spend that much? question, I saw a moment of opportunity. “Look” I said as I turned the laptop towards her – clean new keys glistening, ease of use, graphics beyond anyone’s wildest expectations…

I got up and poured two cups of coffee.

What we call a ‘trigger’ in our conversations with couples about conflict is often really a hook. Bite on it and you’ve secured a line in your mouth that’s likely to lead where you don’t want to go. Had I bitten, I could have easily segued into defensiveness – ‘you don’t appreciate how careful I am about costs or how hard I work.’

I saw the possibility, took a deep breath and transformed the moment into one of collaboration. I countered with an invitation: ‘come, share my delight.’

Knowing the difference between responding with defensiveness (a power play really) and offering an invitation to share your intentions can change enormously the tone of relationship. What we fight with is so small, the poet Rilke reminds us, what we need so huge.

In one moment a delightful morning can change because of our own fear and lack of trust in our partner’s love. Good communication is solidly based on knowing who you are and who it is that you’re talking to. Knowing who you are requires that you know where you are. Are you within the first domain of marriage – the domain of roommates, where practical matters (money, space and time) determine the content of conversation? Or are you coming from ‘inner space’ – the content of feelings, images and thoughts and answering the question ‘who are you really?’ It’s possible you’re both trying to get to the third domain where the driving force is intimate connection and conversation intentionally ignores data, meaning and agreements but instead focuses on connection at a deep level.

If I tell my partner that I would like to be closer, have better conversations, laugh together – I’m really not telling her much. I’ve said all that before. If, however, I demonstrate my intention by stopping in the middle of the noise of my life, tune into who she is and what’s she’s saying; if I can quietly reach out and touch her shoulder or gently message her hands – am I not demonstrating the intention and in so doing being far more credible than all my words could ever be?

The laptop became a shared joy. We had the conversation about cost later.

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