Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Don't Mock the Process

In an ongoing effort to mend our battered marriage, MathMan and I make occasional visits to this nice bald man with a calm demeanor and good ideas about how we can not only keep from killing each other, but also how can can actually improve the way we - gasp! - communicate with one another.

Good communication skills are essential to a happy marriage. Or so they say. I guess using good communications skills helps you know exactly what it is that you're fighting about.

Our counselor has recommended that we use something I think he refers to as "tracking" or "mirroring." I suppose if I were a better listener, I'd know for certain what he calls it, wouldn't I? Anyway, it's a style of contrived communication that helps two people reflect back to each other what they're hearing....oh wait - it's called Reflective Listening. Okay, where was I?

Oh, yes, Reflective Listening provides you with the opportunity to clarify what's being said to you and what you're saying to your partner. Let me give you an example of what happened last Friday and then I'll show you how if we'd applied Reflective Listening, we might have avoided some bruised feelings and more of the same crap that keeps us from jumping up and clicking our heels about being married to one another. (Read: Bad or Non-existent Communication)

We're driving home from work and MathMan says "Why don't we go out tonight. Have a drink or something...."

To which I reply "Okay" as I'm looking out the passenger window. We move on from that topic, but about five minutes later, we pass by a restaurant that features live music and beer on their patio. I suggest we go there. Maybe? MathMan answers "Okay."

Nothing more is said about this conversation. We go home, I make dinner, MathMan takes care of the Pussies for Peace and delivers the beatings to the children who cannot find a trash can to save their lives. Or at least to avoid a beating. After dinner, MathMan suggests we go out for ice cream, I ask where, he suggests a place, I agree, we go, we eat ice cream, get brain freeze, come home. End of story.

But it's not.

Saturday night we end up sucking down mojitos on the deck and having one of those conversations. It's far ranging and deep. We do not come to blows, verbal, physical or job. But Friday night comes up and we discuss how my lack of enthusiasm as I delivered my initial "okay" to MathMan's suggestion doused the flame of his desire to go out and have fun and so we didn't pursue it further.

Exasperated at his inertia and his tendency to blame it on me and my lack of enthusiasm, I pointed out that I had, in fact, suggested a place to go and he'd not even done that. I guess I should use exclamation points here because I was probably verging on shrill. This whole you "let" or "don't let" thing drives me insane.

Anyway, we talked through it, came out the other side with decent attitudes and moved on with our weekend. Just don't ask me about the conflab regarding whom would sit where and who would drive when MathMan, The Dancer and I went to Rome for a morning of book perusing and plant purchases. That's a whole other example of how Reflective Listening might have improved the situation drastically.

Now, here's how the Friday evening conversation in the car would have gone if we'd been using Reflective Listening.....

MathMan: "Why don't we go out tonight. Maybe get a drink?"
Me: "Okay."
MathMan: "What I'm hearing is 'okay, but I don't really feel like it, but if you do, okay.' You're not very enthusiastic about it, are you?"

At which point I could have either told him that he was correct in what he'd heard and how he'd interpreted my words and reactions or I could have clarified with something like "No, I think it would be nice to go out, but I don't feel like coming up with ideas. You choose and I'll go along with it. It would be nice to just get out of the house."

Or something like that. It's entirely possible that I might have sighed, rested my head against the car window and moaned "I don't want to go anywhere! I want to stay home, sit on my computer and fret about the things I could, should, would be doing if I'd made a million different decisions in my life!"

Trust me, that would be like any other Friday night for the last couple of years.

So today we made our visit to the therapist. I issued my obligatory pre-visit statement that I didn't feel like talking and didn't want to go. "I am a clam. I give up nothing. I offer nothing." I think that's how I said it.

Of course I participated. The therapist has to earn his twenty-five dollar co-pay somehow. And besides, MathMan, who broke the rules of therapy etiquette as far as I'm concerned by not making some pre-visit statement about his desire to participate or not, forced me to speak by not speaking much himself. Would you believe he just sat there grinning at me until I finally broke down and said something? What a jerk.

So we practiced Reflective Listening again and discussed how we can apply it to certain situations, using that Friday night scenario as a perfect example of how not communicating gets us nowhere. We also discussed using more Reflective Listening with the kids. Yeah, that'll be a hoot. I can just hear myself now....

Me: Actor, grab all your dirty laundry and toss it into the hamper.
The Actor: Okay.......
Me: Did you hear me?
The Actor: -----------
Me: So what I hear you saying is that you're not paying the least bit of attention and you wish I'd shut up and go away. Oh and are you still here? Can you fix me a sandwich? I need some Koolaid. Do you deliver?
The Actor: -------------
Me: And what I hear you saying now is that I'm standing in the way of the television and you'd like me to move. And no you don't care if I turn into a raving lunatic and set myself on fire as long as I make that sandwich and Koolaid first.

Verrrrrrry effective.

Anyway, when we left the office, my Reflective Listening skills were stuck on. MathMan and I got in his car to drive home and he asked if I was hungry. (I was.) But instead of simply answering "Yes, I'm hungry," I applied Reflective Listening.

"So what I hear you saying is that you're wondering if I'm hungry?" I mirrored back to MathMan.

He stared at me and blinked. Once. Twice. He finally responded, "Yes......"

"And now I think I hear you wondering if I'd like to pick food up from somewhere because as soon as we get home, you have to race off to the baseball field with The Actor?"

More blinking.

I made that joke, oh, maybe ten, twelve times on the way home. In another day or two the phrase "What I hear you saying is...." will be banned from Golden Manor per proclamation of MathMan and The Royal Pain Children.

In fact, I just sped up the need for that proclamation tonight after MathMan and The Actor returned home from the baseball game. I was listening to the radio and an unfamiliar song was playing on this deep tracks kind of station.

"Oy, are they playing Steeley Dan?" I griped. If you didn't know before you know now - I hate Steeley Dan.

"No," MathMan said calmly, trying to head off the coming "I HATE Steeley Dan" rant. Clearly he was in no mood for me to hold forth on what music I think sucks.

I paused for a very brief moment and then responded "So what I hear you saying is that this isn't Steeley Dan?"

And that's when MathMan delivered the line that became the title of this post.


  1. Interesting. I guess after dating a counselor and a wannabe therapist (he's going back for his Master's degree next year) I've already been through some of that communication stuff. Hasn't stopped me from being a raging bitch from time to time, but that's a mother's prerogative, isn't it?

    It's good to see you two working things out. Any positive changes will eventually spill over onto the kids, don't you think?

  2. I forgive you for not liking Steely Dan.

  3. So what I hear you saying is..... this counseling thread is crazymaking, and you hate Steely Dan.

    My husband does this kind of dance....

    I'll ask: where do you want to go to dinner?

    No where do YOU want to go for dinner.

    I asked you first.

    Whatever you want dear....

    Aaaargh! Just pick a freaking restaurant before I pass out!

  4. Why the f&*$ can you not mock the process? What the hell else do you do with it???

  5. Reflexive Listening is an interesting idea.

    That said, I don't think it would ever fly in my house. My husband and kid would both assume I was just being sarcastic. AGAIN.

  6. I absolutely love this post. Whatever on the reflective listening part....because I always thought the key to a good marriage was the silent treatment.

    Works for me. :))

  7. I hate Steely Dan too. I'm with you on that.

    Communication is nothing to sneeze at. Why is it so freaking hard? Because nonverbal communication is often what we truly say rather than what comes out of our mouths. Having our nonverbal and verbal communication match and making sure we understand others' communication is hard work sometimes but hey, that's life I guess.

    Most people come from families that were all about those mixed messages and it's easy to learn from their example. It's a form of passive aggression too. You don't feel safe enough to say what you really want to say but hey, you are going to say it anyway, just non verbally.

  8. I only kinda sorta read this post.

    But I suddenly have the urge for a sandwich and Kool Aid.

  9. An introspective look once again into your life. Best Line:

    We do not come to blows, verbal, physical or job.

    It gave me pause, only because I haven't had enough coffee and I really had to think about it!

    I tend to be the smart ass in our home, so I get all this.

    Dislike Steely Dan?? I still like you.

  10. AS for Steely Dan, I absolutely agree. I hate them with a passion (Deacon Blue was the final straw.)

    Your communication with MathMan sounds a lot like our communication.

    CC: What do you want for dinner tonight?

    Me: I don't care, whatever you want.

    CC: No you decide.

    Me: Ok, I wouldn't mind having chinese.

    CC: No, I don't want that.

    Me: Ok, how about bbq?

    CC: No, I had a snadwich for lunch.

    Me: Ok, then tell me what you want to eat for dinner.

    CC: No, you decide.

    Me: AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!! (At this poing I go pur another drink and say nothing.)

  11. I think I may have discovered the cause of your marital troubles.
    "MathMan takes care of the Pussies for Peace and delivers the beatings to the children "
    If this is a constant sort of thing then i think you should look into beating the children yourself once in a while.
    Physical activity is good for you and the shared joy of physical activity can help you bond with Mathman.
    Don't worry if you can't do it as well as him it is the effort that counts, it's also very valuable if the kids are constantly worried and not sure where the next attack will come from.

  12. So... I had this conversation with the baby about cleaning-up and not doing what she's asked. Talk about a mood swinging conversation and she hates Steely Dan, too.

  13. What did Steely Dan ever do to you?

  14. Steely Dan was pretty goddamn boring, that's what they did.

    I have a question about this process: does this mean the sometimes-better-half and I would start having meaningful conversations? Okay is okay.

  15. I seem to recall reading in an old issue of Rolling Stone the name 'Steely Dan' was the name of a metallic dildo ...

    I've occasionally wondered what marriage councilors' success-failure rates are? It can't be that good 'cause of the persistent 50-50 marriage-divorce percent.

  16. ....except for "Reelin' in the Years" which for some reason just makes me wax nostalgic....not that it needs any waxing!!

  17. I have nothing witty to add... but I love reading about your life... because it is sometimes vastly more compelling than mine.


    Oh... and reflective listening also gets you kicked out of board meetings. Trust me.

  18. Marriage counselor success rates could be higher than 50-50 because not all people even go to a counselor. Success could also be lower for the same reason.

  19. What I hear you saying is that you don't take Reflective Listening seriously. Neither do I. I find it childish, condescending, and that it actually hampers good communication for both those reasons.

    So, what you hear me saying is there should be an acceptance of words meaning just what they mean and nothing else, including "Go eff yourself." That's right.

    Except, of course,, 10 days ago when what I heard was, "I may love you, but I don't like you or think that much of you as a person." That was sweet. Thank you.

  20. Sheldon is heart broken that you hate Steely Dan.

    A lifetime ago when I was in retail - we called it "active listening" and when I used it at home it was guaranteed to piss off my ex-wife.

    (She was a real bitch, err, um non-communicator like that)

    Did I mention that Peg is one of my ringtones?

  21. Oh, and BTW, my opinion of your musical tastes went in to the crapper. Steely Dan is awesome.

  22. What I hear you saying is that you want to come to Utah and live with me. I too hate Steely Dan. Well, not really, but if it pleases you to have me hate Steely Dan I will oblige you.

    And I will never suggest we go out for a drink, as I don't drink, but have a perfectly well stocked bar.

  23. Steely Dan is my favorite group. Really.

  24. I came back to confess that I have no opinion of Steely Dan whatsoever.
    This is solely because I have no idea what their music sounds like.

    That said, I loathe Journey with the fire of a thousand suns. [Except the new song, for whatever reason. Anything from Greatest Hits, however, has me reaching for sharp objects to jam into my ears.]

  25. Yes, Steely Dan are indeed named after a metal dildo - so while they may not be your favourite group, I would have thought you would, er... enjoy them.

  26. This is hilarious. And it sounds like our communication or lack thereof. We've been seeing the same therapist for, oh ... 23 years. She knows us soooo well.

    So, are you still coming to Mad City? And when exactly? If you're here on the 19th you can see Grace's play. (It's got a vibrator ....) And if you're here on the 20th, you can hear Ed play.

  27. So what I hear you all saying is that you think the Reflective Listening might be helpful or it might be silly. I also hear some of you saying that you are not fond of or familiar with Steely Dan, but others of you are big fans and rather put out with my dislike of them.

    Is that right? Is there more?

  28. First of all, I like Steely Dan.
    A lot.
    Second of all, I used to live with a psychologist who tried all that reflective listening horseshit and other tricks to make me behave.
    That was in the early 90's.
    I haven't lived with anyone since, and my cats and I don't care if we listen to one another or not.

  29. Just stumbled on your blog. Good stuff! Keep up the good work :)

  30. Marriage. Enough said.

  31. GAWD; you make me laugh!

    These days that's no easy feat.

    Carry on! ;)

  32. Mocking mocking mocking! (That's a Seinfeld reference for ya', not sure if you get it. :) )

    Anyway, as silly as it seems, it sounds like you guys are on the right track.

    Yay you guys! :)

  33. So, I guess now would not be the time to share that Keith and I aren't speaking to each other?

    And that I love Steely Dan in small doses?


And then you say....

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