I'm going to share with you this week a secret phrase that, when used judiciously, can save our marriages.
"Is this a good time?"
That's it. Five simple words. I guess I could end this week's column right here, but in case you're starting to wonder if perhaps I'm a bit "simple" myself, let me explain.
It often seems to me that about 75 percent of good communication in marriage is a matter of timing. When we say something is frequently as important as what we say and how we say it.
When our spouse is distracted, or tired, or interested in a TV program, or involved with the kids, or half asleep, or worried, or just enjoying being quiet, we may want to think twice about beginning an involved conversation about summer vacation plans.
When our husband is in the middle of telling us about the confrontation he had with his boss, we might reconsider talking about the great buy we got on seeds for the garden.
When we have been a grouch all day, it is probably not the best time to tell our wife about our frustration with her school schedule.
When we are in the midst of our first night out together in three weeks, bringing up an argument we started last month and didn't finish is perhaps ill advised.
You get the idea. Good communication involves being aware of what is going on with our spouse, what is going on with us, how we are getting along, what other things we are (or need to be) talking about, and so on.
It's not that I'm saying there are things we shouldn't talk about in our marriages. I'm just suggesting there are good times and bad times, and such "timing" can make all the difference.
Which brings us back to my five simple words that can save our marriages (well, almost). If we just remember to ask "Is this a good time ..." we can save ourselves a lot of trouble.
"You seem tired. Is this a good time to talk about our vacation plans?"
"It sounds like you've had a pretty rough day. Is this a good time to talk about putting in the garden?"
"I think I've been awfully difficult to live with today. I'm not so sure this is a good time to talk about your school schedule."
"I'm really happy we're finally having some time together. There are some difficult things we need to talk about, but now is not a good time. Let's put off the tough stuff to later and just concentrate on enjoying each other tonight."
Two other suggestions. First, if we decide together that it is not a good time to talk about a particular topic, we do need to agree on when we will bring it up again. "Now is not good for me, but how about if I catch you down in the family room after I get the kids to bed?"
Second, if we do begin talking, we want to give ourselves the freedom to take a "time out" if our conversation seems to be going nowhere. "I'm just not understanding what you are saying, and I'm just getting more and more frustrated. How about a 60-minute break while I cool off and think about all this. We can get back to it after lunch."
Timing is everything. Well, not everything, but it certainly is a fairly simple way to keep our marital communications clear and positive. Talk about it.