Secrets to Talking
Free and open expression of thoughts and feelings is a hallmark of a healthy marriage. How you express what’s on your mind, however, determines whether you and your mate will feel like teammates or like enemies. These basic principles and secrets will help the two of you to speak your mind while remaining loving allies.
Say what’s on your mind. Verbalize your concerns, fears, and desires.
In order for what matters to you to also matter to your mate, your preferences need to be put on the table. If something concerns you and you don’t say it, your partner will have no way of knowing what troubles or what pleases you. Similarly, if you block your desires from your own consciousness, both of you will lack essential information needed for the subtle steering – now to the left, now to the right – that keeps a relationship on track.
Secrets to Talking
Open sharing builds bonds of intimacy, strengthening a sense of connection. However, saying what’s on your mind requires confidence that your concerns will be sympathetically received. Your honesty and courage need to be met with positive listening skills (as described in Chapter 2 of The Power of Two). This is why it is important that both you and your partner read this program and book.
You can also increase the likelihood that your concerns will be listened to sympathetically by taking yourself seriously, listening to your own feelings and thoughts respectfully. If you feel that your own thoughts and feelings are legitimate, the odds that they will be heard by your partner in the same way increase. How you react to your own thoughts and feelings is something you, and only you, control. Fortunately, even though being self-critical is often a matter of habit, it is a habit you can choose to change.
Really Say It
Hinting, or as linguists call it, indirect communication, is a high-risk, low-gain strategy. Saying outright what you feel and want is generally more effective.
In the business world, dealmakers who work with a competitive model of negotiations may use silence as a negotiating technique. They may consider hiding their hand and maintaining a “poker face” critical for a winning strategy. Unlike poker, however, business in fact often proceeds more effectively when businesspeople, like marriage partners, can speak directly about their interests and preferences. This openness is the first step in collaborative business negotiating.
Men sometimes feel that “saying it,” or putting their cards face up on the table, is incompatible with the traditional image of the strong, silent man. It is, because strong and silent are incompatible, at least in the project of marriage. That is, a strong spouse feels comfortable making his or her feelings and thoughts known. In marriage, silence is more often a sign of weakness, of lack of confidence, than of strength.
If you hold a romantic image of the lone gunslinger who keeps feelings and cards close to his chest, bear in mind that at the end of the movie the cowboy almost always rides into the sunset alone. Although he carries the air of romantic mystery, the silent cowboy isn’t suited for life as a longtime companion.
Beware of Wishing and Wondering
Wishing your mate could read your mind is a setup for frustration for both of you – as is thinking you can read your partner’s mind. The alternatives to wishing and wondering are saying and asking.
Waiting for someone to read your mind can be painfully frustrating. For example, children in their second year of life often develop habits of whining. At that age, they are mature enough to sense what they want, but they don’t yet have the verbal skills to express these desires in words.
(One of my patients says to his children, to teach them to speak up and ask for what they want, “You have a mouth, and it’s good for more than eating.”) It’s much easier to be an adult. Unlike an infant or toddler, you needn’t depend on the mind-reading ability of others. You have safer options. You can say what you want.
Beware of “You know I think…”
When you believe that your spouse has previously heard you express a particular thought, you may be tempted to begin a statement with, “You know I think…” In general you will be better off just stating your thought than using the “You know I think…” format, which tends to sound critical and invites a defensive response.
Say What You Want, Not What You Don’t Want
Saying what you don’t want may express your concerns, but it gives little indication of what you do want. Telling someone what you don’t want is like handing them a film negative instead of a color photograph. The negative has colors that are not to be included in the picture, leaving the viewer largely in the dark about how the picture will really look. Instead of giving your mate hard-to-read negatives, offer the positive, the actual picture of what you want.
You may find that sometimes you first become aware that you want something when you notice that something is bothering you. Describing this dissatisfaction has low odds of getting you what you want, and can easily lead to defensiveness from your spouse and hopeless feelings for both of you.
Fortunately, this mishap is relatively easy to prevent. If you notice yourself saying, “I don’t want,” add afterwards what you do want or, more tactfully, what you “would prefer.”
An exercise that I do with my patients may be helpful for understanding the effectiveness of wants versus don’t wants. Imagine that you are sitting in my office, and I tell you I am frustrated because you haven’t given me the book I want from my bookshelf. This initial negative statement might provoke you to feel defensive, confused, and less-than-eager to help. Let’s say, however, that you are feeling especially generous of spirit. You override your negative rumblings and instead offer to help me. You say, “Let me help you. I’d be glad to get the book from your shelf.”
I then say to you, “Thank you. And I don’t want a red or a blue book.” What might your response be?
If you were in fact sitting in my office, at that point you might turn and look at my three walls lined with books. You might feel again confused – maybe even a tad annoyed or downright irritated. My “don’t wants” have given you almost no clues as to what I do want.
“Which book do you want?” you might ask.
Hopefully, I would answer with a more helpful description: “I want the large white book with a green title, on the shelf just behind your chair.”
Now you would be likely to feel relieved. Responding helpfully is easy, and both of us would be happy.
Make Requests, Not Complaints
Complaints focus on the past, creating hopelessness because the past cannot be changed. Requests specify what you would like. They focus on future behaviors, suggesting ways to improve on the present.
Complaints sometimes are disguised as questions. If you hear “Why can’t you…?” or “Why don’t you…?” be on alert. This pseudo-question hides a complaint, sometimes like “You should have…”
Requests include a genuine question, something like, “Are you willing to do this thing that I would like?” A request can be accepted, turned down, or negotiated: “If you could_______ then sure I can.”
If you complain, your mate is likely to feel similarly criticized and discouraged.
While your complaint may be a heartfelt attempt to “say it,” remaining negative needlessly stir up bad feelings.
By identifying what would make you happy and what future action would please you, requests give your partner an opportunity to feel successful, to score positive points with you.
An Excerpt from the Power Of Two By Susan Heitler
The meaning of LovegevityNoun ( Lov-jev-i-tee )
Love. Life. or Loving your life.
A powerful feeling or compelling emotion to journey toward meaningful work.
A passion for something that gives you purpose and makes life more fulfilling.
A commitment to be true to yourself and create the life you love to live everyday.