The Art of Intimate Conversation by John Gottman
Many people think that effective conversation entails making yourself sound interesting to others, when actually it is all about being interested in others and listening. Attunement skills help to to avoid counterproductive “collective monologue.” Attuned communication in everyday life is necessary to maintain any relationship. Intimate conversation doesn’t require that you discuss conflicts or touchy subjects. It is just about talking . Consider the steps below to be the ticket to your partner’s inner world. To integrate them into daily life, I recommend that couples schedule regular “How was your day” chats using this method to check in and reconnect. (For many examples of words and phrases you can use during intimate conversations, see appendix 1 on p. 244.)
1. Put Your Feelings into Words
Many people cannot verbalize their emotions. Because they aren’t sure what’s going on inside, they are unable to share their feelings with their partner. This is a huge obstacle when trying to connect. Please don’t be dismissive of your emotions or ashamed if you have difficulty articulating them. Instead, let your partner know that identifying your feelings is a challenge. Consider enlisting him or her to assist you in figuring them out. A great strategy for pinpointing your emotions is to tune into your body as you consider different descriptions of your mood. Distinguished psychologist Eugene Gendlin uses an approach he calls focusing. When you’re hunting for the right word to describe a feeling, he suggests you “try on” each word while monitoring your physical responses to it. When your body relaxes, you’ve probably hit on the correct description of your emotions. It’s almost as if the body says, “Phew! Yes! That’s the right word.”
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Avoid queries that your partner can punt with single words such as yes or no, which kill conversations before they start. Instead, pose questions in ways that require a deeper response. Replace “Did you have a good day at work?” with “So, what was it like at work today?” Instead of “Did you like the movie”, try “What did you think of the movie?” or “What was the best part?” And rather than a simple “How’s the new mystery you’re reading? “, ask how it compares to the author’s previous work. This technique doesn’t apply to just everyday exchanges but also to conversations about significant issues. “Are you upset?” can close off further discussion, but “you seem upset - what’s going on?” will encourage it.
3. Follow Up with Statements that Deepen Connection
After your partner answers a question, respond by saying back what you just heard, in your own words. It’s okay if your description isn’t 100 percent accurate, but don’t make assumptions or put words into the other’s mouth. When you reflect back your partner’s thoughts and feelings in an understanding manner, you encourage him or her to open up more.
4. Express Compassion and Empathy
When your partner is upset, be on his or her team whether the issue is trivial or significant. If you think your mate is overreacting or should have a different emotional response, stifle the urge to offer your opinion and suggestions. Let the person you love know that you’re standing with him or her. You get and accept his or her emotions as valid – because all feelings are. Although you’ve probably been tempted, don’t offer opinions or problem solve until you’ve gone through all four of these steps. Ready advice sounds glib and insulting to many people. (“Are you saying I can’t think of a solution? I am not stupid”.) Remember Ginott’s motto: understanding must precede advice. Just being there and listening is an enormous contribution.
So that’s all it takes to draw out your partner. Open up about your own feelings, converse in a style that encourages confidences, and be an ally more than a problem solver.
From chapter 7 of “What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal”, Simon and Shuster, New York, NY, 2012