Setting: Joe and Ellen’s kitchen on a Sunday morning. They are cleaning up after sharing brunch together.
Ellen: Honey, I’ve been feeling some distance between us lately and I’d like to talk with you about some of my concerns. I think that both of us have gotten caught up in our jobs and I’ve been missing you.
Joe: (defensively) Well, I’m right here. If you want to talk, just let me know.
Ellen: It just seems like the content of our conversations generally focuses on the business of running the household and we don’t have time to connect the way that we used to. I miss those times.
Ellen: Just because that happens to a lot of other people doesn’t mean that it has to happen with us. I know that it’s not inevitable that we lose the juice that we used to have between us. There’s nothing that’s more important to me than the quality of our connection and I’m not willing to watch things go downhill without doing something about it.
Joe: What do you mean, “go downhill”? Are things that bad between us?
Ellen: They’re not “bad”, they’re just not what I want them to be, what I know they could be. You’re right. Our work and other concerns have pushed everything else, including our relationship into the background and I’ve been noticing that lately I’ve been starting to feel frustrated and disappointed in our lack of contact. I’m not blaming you. I’m as caught up in juggling my life as you are yours. I just want to nip this in the bud so that six months or two years down the road we don’t find ourselves in a train wreck.
Ellen: That’s OK Joe. We don’t have to talk this very minute. I feel better just having spoken to you about how I feel and I’m glad that you also want to make things between us even better than they already are.
Joe: I do.
Ellen: How about if we pick a time in which we can be together without any distractions from the kids or work or the phone or anything else.
Joe: (sarcastically) Sure, when, next year?
Ellen: (returning his sarcasm) I think we might be able to find some time before then.
Joe: Like when?
Joe: (Sarcastically) how romantic. Breakfast at 8, lovemaking at 9, shopping at 10.
What was at least as important as Ellen’s words was the tone of voice that she used in conveying her concerns. She was serious but not heavy-handed; clear, but not grim; committed but not controlling. Sometimes a couple waits too long to address unfinished business and by the time one of them expresses their concerns, it comes out sounding angry or blaming because they have been sitting on their feelings for too long. The sooner we address these issues, the less likely it is that our communication will be contaminated by buried resentment that can make a positive outcome of such an encounter unlikely.
Couples who engage in this level of connectivity enjoy a sense of being at peace within themselves and with each other. They are willing to share their worst failures and mistakes, their most embarrassing moments, their feelings of inadequacy, their dark shadow side as well as their loftiest dreams, visions and hopes for their lives. They are also likely to more freely express gratitude and appreciation towards each other. All this adds up to a formula for enhanced emotional well-being, and physical health as well. There are, of course, bumps along the road, even in the best of relationships. That’s part of the package. Seeing the bumps as inevitable makes it a lot easier for us to not take things too personally or to blame each other, which makes it easier for us both to communicate non-defensively. And that can make all the difference in the world!