The Speaker Listener Technique

August 14, 2015

This is a process that a couple can use to conduct a successful conversation, meaning one without bad tone or accusations or frustrations or anger. It is very structured, which is what you want when you’re learning a new way of exchanging information and opinion. Embrace the structure. If you practice this enough, the respectful technique will become more natural to you.  Source: PREP Educational Products.

Rules for the Speaker:

  • Speak for yourself, don’t mind-read!
  • Keep statements brief. Don’t go on and on.
  • Stop to let the listener paraphrase.

Rules for the Listener:

  • Paraphrase what you hear.
  • Focus on the speaker’s message. Don’t rebut.

Rules for Both:

  • The speaker has the floor.
  • Speaker keeps the floor while the listener paraphrases.
  • Share the floor.

That’s not how I remember it. . . .

Here’s a great article about how partners remember their fights or even casual conversations differently. I hear this complaint frequently in couples counseling. It helps to know that there are reasons for this, not just “selective listening.”

Sometimes it’s OK to lie . . .

February 9, 2015

Sometimes a client will say, “I have to be honest. I can’t lie.” And that makes me think of that hysterical insurance commercial with Abe and Mary Lincoln, which is a version of “do these jeans make my butt look big.” Abe looks stricken and responds with a “just a little” motion with his thumb and forefinger. You can tell that’s not going to go well for Honest Abe.

He could have benefited from current couples theory and research, as I read in the New York Times:

“We all tell lies, and tell them shockingly often: Research shows that on average in an ordinary conversation, people lie two to three times every 10 minutes. (It makes you want to be completely silent for a day or two just to throw off the statistics — but what about lies by omission?) And we lie particularly often when it comes to love, because we care more about love than we care about most things, and because love causes us more fear than most things do, and caring and fearing are two of the most common reasons for lying.”

Intrigued? Here’s the link:

Pre-marital advice: make decisions together

February 2, 2015

What’s your guess, true or false?

  • Couples who live together before marriage, practicing the relationship, have stronger marriages?
  • Couples who have more than one sexual partner before marriage have stronger marriages?
  • Couples who had small, intimate weddings had stronger marriages than those who threw the big bash?

If you guessed False to all three, you are correct, even though the first one sounds counter-intuitive, the second one sounds potentially moralistic and the third is just an odd correlation. Here’s a New York Times article that provides the research behind the facts. Enjoy:

Money and marriage

September 25, 2014

Here’s a great story from the Denver Post this week about how couples talk, or don’t talk, about money. In newspaper-speak, the first paragraph is called the “lead,” pronounced “leed” and written in newspaper-speak as lede. (A little newspaper education from my first career.) This one made me laugh.

“I haven’t taken a full count, but as far as I can estimate, we have nearly 90 rolls of Bounty paper towels in our basement.”

Check it out:

What I did on my vacation

September 4, 2014

I practiced what I preach. I  mindfully walked through the Hoh Rain Forest, feeling the dampness of the air, smelling the mosses and earth. Drinking in the colors of the lichens, the stream, the fogged sky. Even with others on the trail with me, I could be in the moment, far away from the stress of ordinary life. 

I also shared much “newness” with my husband. We drove a patch of highway where farmers had put up signs identifying their crops: Sweet Corn, Peas, Timothy. I had to Google Timothy — a kind of hay for horses. Suburban folk, we were in awe of the straight rows of crops, the gigantic Erector-set irrigators, the napping black cattle. I couldn’t begin to count how many times I said, “Wow, look at that” as we wove through rock canyons and came upon wide western vistas of plains shoved against mountains.

We shared many new experiences and deepened our long friendship, as Dr. John Gottman would say the “masters of marriage” do. It was the best of vacations. 


July 22, 2014

I have been in search of a reliable statistic on how many married men and married women cheat on their partners. Google gave me serious research from 2005, which is a long time ago, culturally. I found an article on how women who carry designer handbags deter other women from flirting with their spouses. Really.

I swear that a couple of years ago I found a credible stat that said infidelity happens in 50 percent of committed relationships, but I can’t resurrect that today. 

The reason for this is that I realized today that I have seven current clients who are dealing with the aftermath of affairs or one-night stands. Two individuals and five couples. 

The “cheating” ranges from inappropriate flirting and kissing to long relationships with a lot of sex. 

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy says half of couples who come to counseling are there because of infidelity. So maybe that’s just the reality of my current caseload. What is rather unusual, however, is that in all seven cases the partner that strayed was the woman. 

A social worker friend recently asked me who my “favorite” clients are. My answer was couples recovering from infidelity. I know how to help them heal, which is very rewarding. Here is a link to an overview on infidelity.

In my process, I know the person who was betrayed needs to have his questions answered. So I mediate a gentle question-and-answer session. I do not encourage people to share details of the sexual experience — definitely TMI there. The hardest question for a person to answer is “why.” Sometimes there really isn’t a clearcut “why.” It just happened. And that is hard for the partner to accept. 

In my experience, most affairs are found out these days by phone records — seeing something on the phone or another device, or going online and looking at the trail of calls and texts. I encourage transparency in the early stages. Contact with the affair partner must cease, and the betrayed person needs to know that by looking at his own partner’s phone. 

I also ask the couple not to discuss the affair or betrayal between sessions. This is hard, but it removes some of the tension in the home, and the couple can work on restoring their friendship, which is the foundation of a good marriage. 

That’s how I begin. Lots of couples overcome infidelity. Many of them emerge from counseling with stronger relationships. That’s what I like to see. 


Why teenagers act crazy

June 30, 2014

That’s the headline of this New York Times article about teenagers and anxiety. It’s all about the brain.

‘Conscious uncoupling’

March 31, 2014

Most of the divorces I hear about are messy — they are messy enough that one or both parties needs counseling to navigate emotionally. The most common cause of divorce is actually emotional distance, but once a divorce is put in motion and someone winds up in my office, it’s because of the hurt and anger resulting from the legal process called divorce. AKA messy. 

There are alternatives to Messy Divorce. In Colorado there are two avenues: Collaborative Divorce and Early Neutral Assessment. I am not an attorney, but I refer you to the website of Divorce Matters for explanations of these. These are legal approaches.

Lately, I have been hearing about a personal approach called “concscious uncoupling.” It showed up in the New York Times recently in a story about actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin, who are divorcing. They’re calling it “conscious uncoupling.” Kinder, gentler divorce. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out. 

Here’s the NYT story:

And here’s the message Paltrow and Martin posted on her blog, goop. Keep reading below their message to learn more about the origins of the “conscious uncoupling” concept.

Stop the sugar

December 23, 2013

The folks at Prevention magazine are out with another diet. They think we eat too much sugar. (Shocking, isn’t it?) I’m pretty good at reading labels and understanding fat, sugar, carbs, protein, but I did take away two thoughts for my nutrition in the new year: 1. I’m going to read the label on the pasta sauce, checking for the amount of sugar. The article said some brands pack more than 12 grams per half cup. We eat a lot of pasta sauce at my house, not necessarily on pasta. 

2. I will be on the lookout for “sneaky sugar,” with names like barley malt, carob syrup, fruit juice concentrate, lactose, maltose, rice bran syrup and sorghum syrup. 

If you are planning any resolutions around food in 2014, I suggest you look at your sugar intake, including the sneaky sugars.