A waiter can be a great model for listening during a conflict. A good waiter puts aside his or her own needs and desires and turns their attention to you, even helping you figure out what you really want. On the other hand, in a conflict we feel attacked and so prefer the role of lawyer instead. Reactivity – the emotional/mental state of being in a fight – pushes us to respond from expectations that our own needs will be dismissed, ignored and discounted.
When we’re reactive we bring out our layer to fight for our rights. In a conflict, your spouse is talking at you, and your lawyer comes out. You start looking for holes in arguments and oversights in his/her story, all while waiting – or not waiting in some cases – to jump in with your own counter suit. The main problem in dealing with relationship conflicts like court cases is that a relationship isn’t based on rule-based rights. Marriage vows are pretty simple. They usually promise to love and cherish.
When you start to get angry, you can try to catch yourself before the upsurge, though it’s hard, and put our own needs on hold at first. Not entirely, not permanently, but put them on the side at first. Your lawyer side is going to get all excited, but bring out your waiter then instead. A good waiter shows grace under pressure, even when dealing with angry customers. A spouse might sound like an angry and critical customer, he/she may actually be unfair or even mean, and in the spirit of a good waiter you could stand the pressure and looks for the spirit of what a spouse is getting at even if it means forgiving him or her, more than generously, for sounding angry or critical in the process.
In the process hopefully you will give your partner the gift of feeling heard. They may see that you actually do understand what they’re getting at. You don’t have to agree with them in order to understand, any more than a waiter has to actually like the specials themselves, in order to recommend them. Also, you might actually learn something about yourself, granted it could be an unpleasant moment of learning.
Of course a good waiter also knows when to draw the line and say, “I don’t deserve to be treated like this.” In those moments definitely walk away, take the time-out, or leave if need be. Otherwise hopefully, your waiter, can help your spouse feel a little better and back down enough that you can then ask, “Okay, now may I tell you what I need and be heard too?”. I don’t know that you’ll always get a great response immediately, but you’ll always be able to come back and ask for your own service. Hopefully your spouse can put aside his/her lawyer and hear you with their inner waiter instead.
For more information on communicating with your spouse and techniques for better listening and understanding please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us directly at 617.834.4235.