By Lawrence B. Lennon, Ph.D
What do sex, finance and child rearing have in common?
They all are pressure points in a marriage which account for most of the arguments that couples engage in.
While each of these problems represents unique issues which should be individually addressed, they are often symptomatic of the most basic of marital problems:
LACK OF COMMUNICATION.
Clear, continuous and loving communication between spouses is essential for a marriage to be successful and growing. When a marriage is strained, unhappy or just stale, not only do the spouses suffer, but the problems often are manifested through the children. In our work with children and adolescents who are hurting, we have found that in order to help them we often just first help the parents. Our initial step in helping parents is to teach them a more effective way to communicate. A very powerful tool to help marriages in distress and to make good marriages better is the 10/10 dialogue. The rules are deceptively simple, and it requires only 20 minutes a day.
The 10/10 dialogues consists of spending ten minutes a day writing a love letter to your spouse. It can be done any time during the day, and it should be written spontaneously without regard to spelling and punctuation. It should be from the heart with “I” messages rather than “you” messages. For example, instead of saying, “You don’t like my mother,” it is more constructive to say, “I feel you don’t like my mother.”
Once each partner has written his/her letter, with an appropriate salutation and closing, the letter is personally exchanged at a predetermined time in a private location. After dinner or when the kids are in bed is usually a convenient time, and the bedroom is the most frequently chosen location. All interruptions from TV, radio, children, phone calls, etc., are to be avoided.
The letters are exchanged with a kiss, and each letter is read silently two times. Then ten minutes are allocated to discuss the contents of the letter. Again, “I” messages and feeling statements are to be gently and calmly shared. At the end of the ten minutes a new topic (or even the same topic) is selected for the next 10/10 dialogues and a time is scheduled for the next day’s session. Spouses alternate in picking the topic and the location of the next meeting.
The 10/10 dialogue is a powerful means of communicating. Because feelings are initially shared in writing dominated by “I” messages, yelling, finger pointing and word games are minimized. Defensiveness is reduced, and openness to the feeling and ideas of one’s partner is facilitated. With openness and the spirit of cooperation, virtually any marital problem can be resolved. Trade-offs, compromises, apologies and sincere promises to be more thoughtful are signs of a maturing relationship.
A few topics for the 10/10 dialogue are listed below. Eventually couples should select topics most suitable for their circumstances.
How do I feel when…
• I think about your most endearing quality (be sure to name it!)
• I think of how our children are growing up.
• You cry (laugh or sing).
• You put me down in front of other people.
• Et cetera.
Good marriages are not made in heaven; they begin in the hearts and minds of two committed individuals. But even if there is goodness in one’s heart and mind, unless it is translated into loving actions, this goodness will never be felt.
The 10/10 dialogue is a specific, concrete way that couples can demonstrate their commitment to the vows they made on their wedding day.
Previously published in Indy’s Child