Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Getting the Love You Want
As I was checking in an elderly couple at the hotel, the gentleman glanced at my book laying down on the counter. "So," he asked kindly, "are you getting the love that you want?" He was referencing the title.
This would have been somewhat embarrassing, but I was actually able to tell him that I in fact am getting the love that I want. "My husband and I are taking a marriage class," I explained, "and this is the book it's based on."
"A marriage class?" His wife asked. "Well isn't that wonderful, dear." She looked at her husband. "John, isn't that wonderful?"
Before Pete and I married, we read a lot of books about marriage and we talked a lot about our relationship. Regardless of how in love and perhaps blind we were, a rational part of us wanted to make sure we covered all of our bases so that we wouldn't make a terrible, binding mistake. It was exhausting being so passionately in love while remaining open to the possibility of breaking it off and seeing other people.
Once we finally got married, it was like a huge weight had been lifted. The decision had been made. And for once, it was nice just to be in a relationship without constantly having to analyze it and weigh it and discuss it. So we didn't read any books, and we didn't talk with any older or wiser couples. We just ate breakfast and went to work and watched movies and had a lot of sex. Bliss.
Now, about a year and a half later, it's time to start discussing our relationship again. We're taking a class with our church based on the New York Times bestseller, Getting the Love You Want. Each class starts with a "romantic interlude," which this week entailed of whispering to your spouse a memory from the first time you made love. Pete whispered so quietly there that I could barely hear him myself. I think I caught, "You looked beautiful, and it was kind of complicated."
Next we watch videos of Hendrix and Helen, who are married, but maintain several separate professional last names. Helen has so many last names that I can only assume she kept her mother's, her father's, and her ex-husband's, but chose not to take Hendrix's. Hendrix and Helen both are prototypes of male and female psychologists, in that he has glasses and a beard and she has an unruly head of curls. They sit in opposite chairs and they demonstrate the Couple's Dialogue.
The Couple's Dialogue has three parts: mirroring, validating, and empathizing. I will now demonstrate a dialogue that Pete and I practiced with at class.
Joy: I would like to tell you about a dream that I had last night.
Pete: What you are telling me is that you had a dream last night which you want to tell me about. Did I get that right?
Joy: Yes. I had a dream last night that I was eating breakfast with Abraham Lincoln, and he was just now leaving office in 2008.
Pete: So, in this dream, you were eating breakfast with Abraham Lincoln. It struck you as odd that he was leaving office in 2008.
Joy: Almost. It didn't strike me as odd in the actual dream. But I think that it is odd now that I am consciously thinking about it.
Pete: So Abraham Lincoln was leaving office in 2008, but this did not seem odd in the dream. Did I catch that?
Pete: Is there more?
Joy: Yes. In the dream, I asked Abraham Lincoln what he was planning to do after he left office, and he said that he was going to move to New Zealand because their stock market was good, as well as the weather.
Pete: In your dream Abraham Lincoln conveyed his plans to you, which were to move to New Zealand because of the better stock market and climate. Is that right?
Pete: Is there more?
Joy: Well... now that you ask... I'm remembering that I had a hard time falling asleep last night. And at some point I thought that maybe I should take a sleeping pill. Thinking about sleeping pills made me think about that commercial with Abraham Lincoln and the groundhog who are missing from people's dreams because these people can't sleep. So I think that's why I had a dream about Abraham Lincoln.
Pete: If I'm getting this right, you thought about Abraham Lincoln before you went to sleep, and you think that may be the reason that you had a dream about him.
Joy: Yes. Also, I think that I couldn't fall asleep last night because I took that long nap. So maybe I should cut back on naps and just depend on a good night's sleep.
Pete: Is there any more?
After Pete summarizes the conversation in whole, he asks, "Did I get all of that?" And then I say, "Yes, I think so."
Joy: Yes, I think so.
Pete: Well, I think that makes a lot of sense that you would dream about Abraham Lincoln after thinking about him. And I also think it is valid that you may have slept poorly because you took a nap. I feel your dilemma, because I think I sometimes don't sleep as well because of the naps that I take. If you want to try skipping your naps, I'd be happy to help you in any way that I can.
So, basically, the Couple's Dialogue is a great tool to make sure that the one partner feels respected and heard-out before the other partner tries to either defend him or herself or offer solutions. It is also a great tool to drive you a little crazy.
Of course, what it is actually good for is providing structure around heated discussions. "I would like to tell you about a dream I had last night" is one thing; "I would like to tell you about how you made a complete fool of me in front of everyone" is another. It takes great patience to parrot back, "So what you're saying is that you felt as though I was being a jerk to you and trying to expose you in front of everyone," instead of saying, "Honey, you got this all wrong; it was a joke." You can always just wait until there is no more, and say, "I would like to have a dialogue about why I think that you should lighten up a little."
Helen, Hendrix and Abraham Lincoln aside, it feels really good to be back in our groove, analyzing and fine-tuning our relationship. Marital bliss can get a little boring. Sometimes you need to throw in some couple's dialogue to spice things up.
- January 08