Communication is vital for any husband and wife who care about their relationship. Just ask my friend Arlene.
She and Eddie were older when they married -- and each a little set in their ways. Complicating their communication challenge was Eddie's timid nature and the fact his first language was not English. Arlene had a tendency to overlook Eddie's comments because of his offhanded way of presenting them. And when she did notice what he said, she was never sure if she comprehended how he really felt.
Then one May morning, a graduation announcement arrived from his nephew several states away. In Arlene's own extended family, such events were pleas for the customary check, but Eddie casually mentioned he'd like to attend.
"Oh, just send a card," was her quick comment.
Eddie nodded and turned to go into the garage, but something in his gentle resignation caught Arlene's attention. As she pondered the dilemma, she turned the announcement envelope over and drew a chart of five squares in a row, numbered from one to five. Then she labeled each. Square One meant, "I really don't want to do this." Square Two was, "I don't want to do this, but I'm willing to talk about it." Square Three equaled, "I don't care one way or another." Square Four stood for, "I'd like to do this, but I won't die if we don't" And Square Five announced, "Yes, this is very important to me."
Then she took the chart to Eddie, explained the numbers, and asked him how he would rate his nephew's graduation.
To her surprise, Eddie pointed to the five and said, "He's that important."
Arlene had met this family at the wedding and remembered that even though their English was flawless, they spoke to Eddie only in their own language even in her presence. Now she had a decision: Would she accompany Eddie to the graduation?
Turning to the chart again, Arlene asked how badly Eddie wanted her to accompany him. He thought for a moment and then said, "A four. Yes, a four. I'd like you to be there, but I'll understand if you don't want to go."
Then, having caught on to this new way of communicating, he said, "What number would you choose?"
As thoughts of the long drive collided with Arlene's concern the family wouldn't speak English, her first impulse was to choose Square One -- the "I really don't want to do this" response. But if this event was so important to Eddie, perhaps she ought to be open to discussing it. Thus, she chose Square Two -- the "but I'm willing to talk about it" category.
As they talked, Arlene explained her dismay at the thought of a six-hundred-mile trip in one day, which was Eddie's usual way of traveling. To her surprise, he nodded, then said, "We could leave a day early, drive until mid-afternoon, and find a nice place to stay. Then the next morning, we'll have a late breakfast and arrive at my brother's at the time he would normally expect us."
With that hurdle behind her, Arlene presented her concern that his family left her out of conversations by speaking their own language.
Eddie's eyes widened. "Oh, we don't mean to be rude. We get excited to talk, and they know my English doesn't keep up with my thoughts. We'll do better."
So the arrangements were made, and to Arlene's surprise, the trip was wonderful. Not only was it leisurely, but since Arlene now understood that Eddie felt inadequate to express himself well in English, she was more tolerant of his lapsing back into his own language. And she had an ally in Eddie's fifteen-year-old niece who enjoyed translating for Arlene. That good bonding time would never have happened if Arlene hadn't come up with a better way to communicate with her husband.
Yes, a little creative thought can go a long way toward smoothing rocky communications. But it often begins with a willingness to try.
Adapted from Men Read Newspapers, Not Minds -- and other things I wish I'd known when I first married by Sandra P. Aldrich. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Used by permission.) Author or co-author of 17 books, Sandra is an international speaker who handles serious issues with insight and humor. For information about her speaking availability or to order this book, contact her at [email protected].