REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish News, p. 16.
“Can’t I express myself?” the man asked me with annoyance.
“I think I should be able to be honest with my own wife!” another one haruumphed at me.
“Why should I always watch out for his feelings?” a woman asked with indignation.
The answer to the questions, in order is, “No, you can’t,” “No, you shouldn’t,” and “Because that’s the right thing to do.”
“But”—and here comes that big “but” that always clinches these discussions—“I feel like I’m walking on eggshells!”
And I have the same answer each and every time: “Good! You should!”
At this point, I’m met with a combination of confusion and irritation. The irritation usually wins (which is a good part of the problem). “How can a couple have a genuine, honest, intimate relationship if they can’t be truthful with each other and tell each other exactly how they feel?” they want to know.
Being Hurtful is NOT “Honest” Communication; It Destroys Intimacy
You can see that my answer is paradoxical: The more honest you are in a hurtful or rude way, the less intimate your relationship will be. If you really want intimacy, walk on the eggshells.
You know what? Forms of speech that stop the conversation cold, shut the ears of the listener, reduce intimacy, and make it very hard to feel love for someone are the most honest. Imagine that! Here are some examples:
“I don’t love you.”
“You’re stupid (lazy, crazy, etc.).”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re a bad mother (husband, cook, business partner, provider, etc.).
“You don’t know how to …….”
Here are some more that in aggregate place a dagger in the heart of intimacy:
I think you get the idea. These honest statements are hurtful, rude, or just too difficult to bear; in short, door closers. Who wants to hear any of that? The person at the receiving end sure doesn’t. In the end, “expressing yourself” accomplishes nothing.
The eggshell way is much better. It’s a three-step formula.
Think of a compliment, something the person you’re speaking to does to your satisfaction, or, at least, better than she or he did before. Suppose, for example the problem was that your wife was vastly disorganized and you were as frustrated as a human being could possibly be with the chaos that resulted from it. The old you, the you that was honest and forthright, would have said, “You’re a slob,” or “You always screw up the shopping list,” but now that we’re going over these ideas, you rethink it and decide to get more bees with honey, so you start with a compliment.
Variation #1 could be, “Wow!” you say, “You made a shopping list and you didn’t lose it!”
Variation #2, for more low-key sorts of people, could be, “I appreciate all the efforts you make at running this house. It’s hectic at times.”
In order to avoid prejudging someone, the next step is to get the facts before you rush to condemnation. In other words, ask some questions first, such as, in the case of the grocery shopping, above, “So how come you didn’t get me the kind of salad I wanted?”
You might hear excuses or you might actually get a good answer. A good answer might be, “The kind you wanted was not in stock. I made a point of looking.”
But what if the answer you hear just sounds like an adult version of “The dog ate my homework”? For example, “I don’t think they carry that kind.” That one is so frustrating, isn’t it? Of course they carry that kind!
That’s where Step III comes in.
Step III is all about solving the problem. I mean, isn’t that the point? Isn’t a good marriage (or any important relationship) all about getting one’s needs met? So why criticize, or be negative, or get angry when what you really want is to solve the problem?
This Step, then, means thinking creatively about all the possible ways to solve the problem. Ideally, it begins with a conversation between the two of you as to just what the problem is, followed by some brainstorming. For example, maybe he or she is overwhelmed by the sum total of life’s responsibilities and isn’t really forgetting you or putting you on a back burner. Solutions that reduce that overwhelmed state could include:
- getting extra cleaning help
- trying to divide up household chores and responsibilities more equally
- using various devices to organize time (PDAs, calendars, bulletin boards for flyers of events you want to attend)
- checking with flylady.net for more organizing ideas
- looking in Home Depot for shelves, cabinets and other ways to organize space
On the other hand, maybe you’re right and your own true love has indeed put you to the bottom of the list and that is why you’ve been forgotten. So the obvious question is: Why? Is it possible that the way you speak to him/her has caused a retreat? If so, then the solution is to walk on those eggshells with joy in your heart, knowing that you’re doing it to repair some damage you may have caused by bluntness.