I met with Al and Judy today; we had an intense session. We were talking about the conversational process between them (how they talk together). The topic of possible conflict came up in this way.
Earlier in the summer Judy had planted some groundcover in the front of their house.
Now, it looked as though it was dying. So, Judy did some research on Google over the weekend, found some information on the plant and had emailed it to Al earlier.
Al got home that day about 5:00 p.m., before dinner. Judy immediately asked him to go outside with her to see what she’d been worried about. Once outside she went into what she’d learned about the groundcover, which was a lot of data, and waited for Al to speak. When he didn’t, she asked, “Well, what should we do about it?”
Al and Judy have been married twenty years and for that long Judy has been waiting for Al to speak. What I mean is that Al has been reluctant during their entire twenty years together to step up and have an “equal voice in the marriage,” especially if he thinks Judy will disagree with him. (He feels anxious but isn’t aware of it yet.) So, he’s either avoided having an opinion or the answer he gives is a judgment, like “You shouldn’t have planted those to begin with.”
Of course Judy wants an emotional connection, as she should, and she’s been after Al to get help with how to do that for a long time. Okay, so what does he need to learn? Several things.
- Al needs to get connected to his feelings. He’s missing relationship language. That’s the major reason he doesn’t converse with her. He’s been telling her what he thinks without realizing that his thoughts are only half of him. We need to be able to tell our partners both our feelings and our thoughts.
- Al needs to stop being afraid of Judy. He has the false idea that:
(a) if he tells her that he needs more time to think about it and absorb the information, or
(b) if he tells her his opinion and she disagrees with him, they’ll have an all-out fight, or
(c) if there’s a fight, he’s going to be hurt and/or he won’t “win.”
So where did he get these ideas?
Al is the third child of four. In his original home there was conflict between his dad and Al’s older brother. His brother always came out of those times with hurt feelings because there was a lot of judgment from his dad and, of course, the brother never “won.” Al decided unconsciously that he wouldn’t put himself in that position with his folks. Since then, Al’s been stuck on AutoPilot unconsciously thinking that he can’t voice a differing opinion with authority figures.
We can understand all of that but, frankly, it has nothing to do with him and Judy. So, what now? Al must face the present reality, not the one back twenty-five years ago.
The present reality is:
- Al’s married now; he’s not living with his parents.
- Further, Judy’s not an authority figure; she’s his wife, his equal partner.
- In an intimate relationship, there’s no room for
(a) judgments and/or
(b) winning and/or losing.
Al’s homework for our next session was to think about two new ideas.
- Understand the reality that is true today, (the above three statements).
- Begin to learn assertive language.
Al grew up, as many people do,
(a) learning to be silent or the opposite,
(b) learning to argue.
Both of these approaches are not only polar opposites but they’re also extremes. And both are disrespectful. Someone who possesses good language skills doesn’t want extremes in their talk. The middle-of-the-road, assertive “talk” is always the best choice because it’s open, respectful and honest.
How do you and those you care about talk with each other?
Warmest wishes until next time,