Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5766 - June 14, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Tips For 'Top Talk'
by L. Raffles

Sometimes the people close to us can upset us, or make us feel incompetent. Even if we assume that people don't set out to hurt us, they can unwittingly treat us in ways that leave us feeling hurt, undervalued or taken for granted . . . or any number of other negative feelings. If we can identify what it is that they are doing that causes these feelings, we can help us to explain to them how they could do it differently. Also, we can use these insights to better watch our own behavior for how it might be affecting others.

So let's say, for example, that one day a wife sits down to supper with her husband having had a MEGA hassled day. She feels tired, depressed and overwhelmed. The reasons for how she feels are pretty straightforward:

The baby was up a lot at night teething, so she started the day with that 'drag myself out of bed . . . pry my eyes open . . . what day is it anyway? . . . and where's the coffee?' sort of feeling. And only yesterday she had read that the latest research was that there is really no such thing as teething — Ha! Obviously the person who wrote that never had a six-month-old baby!

Then when the kids finally were out the door (hurray!), she felt that familiar pleasure and guilt of knowing that although she loves her children, she loves them most when they are out of the house or asleep!

At work, the computer system went down. Then, too many customers thought she ought to be the natural recipient of their frustrations. On top of that, her boss was not only oblivious to her plight but gave her a hard time as well — and for things that weren't even her fault!

At home, later, the kids were wild, supper burned while she was dealing with a crisis, (Shloimy had decided that being dry in Gan was one thing, but home is quite another) and bedtime was . . . well, I'm sure you get the picture by now . . . it was definitely 'one of THOSE days — and recently she had noticed that 'those days' seemed to come more often than those other sorts of days' . . . The days when the baby sleeps through, the kids all get out in the morning happy and calm, with their notes and lunches . . . AND with their shoes on the right [and left] feet! The bus comes on time, work is stimulating and not too tiring, the kids play nicely while she's making supper, and get to bed on time. OK, OK . . . so maybe that's a bit overdone . . . it's never quite as good as that . . . but you get the idea.

So there's our 'Supermom' at supper with her husband, who has had quite an interesting day . . . seems happy chatting all about it while she serves him nicely, listening to him with half an ear, just trying to stay on top of things a little bit longer until she can collapse into bed.

Let's look at how the next half hour can go.

For example, at some point her husband could look up and (in a hurt voice, of course) say something about her not really listening to him. At this point, she might reply that she's sorry, and then tries harder to listen. Perhaps he'll ask whether she picked up his dry cleaning and she replies politely that she didn't — sorry, she'll get it tomorrow . . . or maybe some comment or question will be 'the last straw' and giving into the weariness and hurt and she finally says (or THINKS) something like:

"You have no idea what sort of day I've had!!

"All you can think of is yourself — what about me?!!"

So either she will manage to get through supper without hurt or an argument . . . or she won't. But either way, even if they don't fight, they will have passed up an opportunity to practice proper communication, genuine connection and sharing and the giving and receiving of emotional support.

She's just trying hard, in stressful circumstances, to be a good wife. The question is, though, whether being a good wife in this situation is to swallow her feelings and get through, or share with him what she's feeling and teach him how to be supportive.

By pushing herself at this point, she may be making an error. Because whatever it is that's going on here — it's not communication. She is struggling to follow what he says and to remain calm and nice — and he has no idea how she is feeling, and may be harboring his own hurt as well.

If this sort of scenario repeats itself often enough, she may start to feel that he really doesn't care about her. Her understanding of this whole situation might possibly be different from how he views it.

Women are usually very good at picking up body language and 'vibes,' so she might imagine that her feelings are OBVIOUS to him, and that he should be able to tell she's worn out and feeling low. It also might be self-evident to her that if he did notice, he would surely do or say something to show that he realizes, (whereas he might not want to pry). So if he babbles on about his own stuff, without appearing to consider her feelings, it might start to occur to her that this means he's insensitive or uncaring.

Unfortunately, if it's not done properly, open and frank communication at this point has its dangers as well. So following are some basic 'rules of engagement' for good communication.

1. If until now there was not very good communication, and resentments are already stirring, don't despair! If the determination is there, it's never too late to learn new habits, and to improve things . . . but it takes time and effort over an extended period to lay the groundwork.

2. Whenever you are going to bring something up, then you might consider waiting until the right time — not when you're "past your sell-by date." It's not helpful to try to speak calmly when either of you are over-tired, over- stressed, hungry or in a rush. It's just basic biology — talking properly takes energy (emotional and physical), and there's a right time and a wrong time.

3. It's important to try to establish good patterns of communication early in marriage because by the time the house is full of young children, there is often very little emotional and physical space, or time, for it. This in itself can put a lot of stress on relationships, and add to the problems. If good patterns are already established, then it's obviously easier to keep it up.

4. Good communication does not have to mean a lot of talking, (though it will at the beginning). Remember . . . it's weight, not volume that counts. Two people can talk for hours with nothing of emotional significance passing between them. And on the other hand, understanding, support and love can pass between two people with very few words, and in very little time, as long as the groundwork is in place.

Now let's go back to the harried wife. If you can imagine yourself in this situation, try to work out what you would want from your husband at this point. If you already have methods of dealing with these issues and situations, and they are working for you, then that's terrific. But for many, this is very challenging. One can feel something's wrong with how a conversation is going, and know that it's not good . . . but without being able to identify what would make it right.

In fact, many women in this situation would despair of their husbands, and go have a long shmooze with another mother. There's no understanding like that which comes from someone in the same boat!

Now I wouldn't want to put anyone off from a long shmooze with a friend. But let's take a look at why some women find another woman so much easier to talk to. We can then learn some valuable lessons in the difference between the way men and women think and feel. Believe it or not, many men who don't know already how to offer support the right way (even though they care and want to) can be taught to do it differently; they just have to understand how.

A good shmooze with a friend will often help because she will:

1. Actively listen. Because she's living with the same issues, she finds the other person's day is actually interesting to her. Lesson — learn to be interested. Listen to what's being said. 'What's important to you is important to me' is a strong message of caring.

2. Not offer advice. Men (women can make this mistake as well) think they are helping by offering advice . . . We hear someone's pain and we want to 'rescue' them . . . solve the problem . . . help them. But what many people really need is just to be HEARD. Many problems don't even have a 'solution,' yet people are still helped by speaking them out. Lesson — just to be heard and understood can help.

3. Validate the pain. The friend will say things like "Yeah, I know, that's really hard." She won't down-play the problems by saying they are not so bad . . . they ARE so bad to her (or at least they FEEL that bad at the moment). The funny thing is that once she is allowed to feel that it is that bad, she will often see for herself that it's not so bad. She can gain the perspective for herself that it "could be worse," or "others have it worse," or "Boruch Hashem for only normal problems," etc. . . . after she has been allowed to express how bad it feels. LESSON — DON'T MORALIZE.

4. Give the following message — Even though you feel weak and "down" right now, I trust that you are in reality strong and capable. She will say things like "I don't know how you cope! You're amazing that you got as far as suppertime!" That's another reason why advice giving doesn't help, because it suggests that she can't solve her problems herself . . . that she can't cope. LESSON — SHOW TRUST.

These same elements will help in many relationships. We can learn to use this way of relating ourselves, and teach others. We can tell someone . . . "You know, I'd rather you just listened and tried to understand at the moment, and maybe we'll discuss solutions later."

This way of communicating is especially important with teens. When they talk about their problems (if you're lucky to have a teenager that still speaks to you at all!), then following the same rules can transform your relationship. Listen actively (and try to be interested), try to understand (even if you don't like it — let them know you HEAR it), don't try to "solutionize" (unless you're asked to — and even then be very careful!), don't moralize (it is not a small issue if it's bothering them), and express faith in their ability to manage. If you're worried they'll think you don't care enough to help them, you can say "I'm confident that you can solve this on your own but I'm here for you if you need help."

If you can identify for yourself the elements in 'good conversations' — things that work for you . . . help you feel cared about and supported, then you can pass this wisdom on to those who care about you, and use it more effectively to get your message of caring across to others.


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