from Talk To Me Like I’m Someone You Love
1. Where the idea came from...
2. How easy it is to have a rupture...and maybe easier than you th ink to repair it.
3. A little instruction and a little good advice
1.Where the idea came from.....
What you are holding in your hands is a very helpful, practical and sometimes magical tool that can move you and a loved one in a much kinder direction when you are stuck in an unhappy spiral of arguing, defensiveness or ordinary terrible listening.
The idea behind this book is rooted in a piece of basic common sense: no matter what form the strain in your relationship is taking—jumping down each other’s throats, nitpicking, walking on eggshells, or endlessly re-visiting an ancient grievance—it will be near impossible to begin to solve your problems if the energy between you and your partner is feeling more unfriendly than friendly. Getting to friendly, of course, is the trick, and this is what Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love is here to help you with.
As a psychotherapist specializing in couples therapy as well as the veteran of a 20-year marriage, I have noticed something about the way words are used or not used, to make this shift. If a couple is unable to make contact in a way that feels genuine, there are virtually no words that can fix what’s wrong. Over and over, we can try to hammer our point home or make nice for the sake of peace……and over and over, no matter how articulate or forceful or even compliant we are, the longing for connection remains until it is, at least, recognized. Sometimes this is for 20 minutes…sometimes it is for years…sometimes, sadly, never. Whether it gets expressed directly or not, the continued experience of feeling unheard and unseen, leads to rage. And I can assure you that few of us are exceptional at maintaining an atmosphere of friendly mutuality when we’re feeling threatened.
I created Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love for couples (and sometimes, parents and children) to transform unproductive, mean or just plain crummy interactions into moments of connection. I like to see this book as a first-aid kit for swiftly generating goodwill and contact in exchanges that have gone off course. It contains 101 what I’ve come to call Flashcards for Real Life—frank, non-defensive messages that have the power to quietly reverse the course of a difficult interaction by going right to the heart of “feeling connected.” These messages work because one person has made the momentous choice to redirect the ongoing tension they are experiencing with another person from the content of the interaction—parenting, money, sex, how-could-you-have forgotten-to-pick-up-the-prescription? etc.)—to the context. This is the real arena--how the two of you are treating each other in the moment.
In order to explain in more depth how this book works, let me tell you the story of how I came to create it. Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of couples as well as individuals in relationship, and watched the stunning ease with which partners get de-railed in their attempts to connect and sustain connection. I’ve watched couples miss over and over again what marital researcher John Gottman, Ph.D. calls each other’s “bids for connection.” I’ve watched women explain in precise detail to their husbands, what felt so off to them in their husbands’ approach--and still not feel much closer at the end of this impassioned sharing. I concluded that an important key to repairing a rupture in connection was increasing levels of vulnerability. So I would coach or ideally, inspire partners who were having an upset, to “drop down” to a deeper level of internal sensing, and share with their loved one where they were feeling: invisible, disrespected, lectured, belittled, invaded, bullied, shamed, unappreciated, ignored, unrelated to, trapped, humored or simply unheard.
Usually this defused tension considerably, particularly if both partners shared and both felt received by the other. Yet, I also couldn’t help but notice that this defusing of tension didn’t always lead to a warm, tender feeling of emotional closeness. Our couple might feel relieved that peace was being restored, that no one was still upset with them, that at last, their previous reactivity made some sense to their loved one. But it didn’t always lead to a hug, either a physical one or an energetic one. Partners could get high marks in processing a conflict, and then go their separate ways, and not really feel the special closeness they hoped would emerge from their sincere clearing.
At a time when I was fascinated with the enormous gifts of intimate communication, as well as sensing some way that words weren’t always enough, I had a couples session with one of the most critical wives and emotionally battered husbands I had ever worked with. Through what I can only call divine intervention, or perhaps God’s peculiar sense of humor, the particular couple in my consulting room also happened to be sent from central casting to re-play the roles of my parents. As I had witnessed countless times in my own childhood, this woman was unrelenting in her criticism of her increasingly inarticulate, emotionally withdrawn husband. I remember the wife smirking and faulting her husband for an “asinine” business decision, Quickly after, in what clinically would be called my “counter-transference reaction,” I felt myself go numb in the familiar way I did as a child. I was all but directionless as to how to proceed with my clients, and felt unusually incompetant as a therapist. More as a last resort than an intentional therapeutic act, I scribbled on a scrap piece of paper in my office, “Talk to me like I’m someone you love!” and whispered to the near-mute husband, “Hold it up to her.”
The husband did this and within seconds the wife softened, truly startling both her husband and me when what came out of her mouth was, “I haven’t been very nice, have I?....You deserve better from me.” The husband sat straighter in his chair, embodying the self-respect his message carried. He didn’t quite smile at her yet, but when he looked his wife in the eye, for the first time I had ever seen, it was without fear. Within minutes, the ancient power differential between the partners shifted, and a realer, gentler, and strikingly more mutual connection began emerging in front of everyone’s eyes. Soon the two of them were focusing on some decision they had to make regarding something having to do with one of their kids. They looked like they were actual friends and equals. I felt like I had found an answer to a prayer.
"It was Nancy Dreyfus who first called my attention to repair attempts (with her flashcards). She inspired our research into this important process of attempting to change the affect during marital conflict resolution."
– John Gottman, author of The Relationship Cure and many other books.