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?"
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.
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?"
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.