It's a stock situation in every old TV sitcom. Rob and Laura (or Edith and Archie, or George and Louise) are in bed, near sleep. Suddenly, Laura turns over and asks, "Rob, are you asleep?"
Rob mumbles something unintelligible and Laura begins to pour out some deep kept secret. Finally, tearfully concluding her confession, she asks Rob if he still loves her.
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Oh boy! Laura hits him with her pillow and angrily turns off the light. Rob awakens the next morning to find himself in the middle of a war that he never knew was even declared.
That's good comedy. It's true to life. It is a scene played out in some variation time and time again between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, or friends. People who really care about each other wind up hurting and being hurt for no good reason.
But then again, maybe there is a good reason.
The problem here is not so much what people do, but what they don't do. Let's go back to our TV show.
There is nothing wrong with Laura talking to Rob. She wants to share with her best friend some deep and important thoughts and feelings.
And, there's nothing wrong with Rob wanting to sleep. After all, that is what he went to bed for.
The misunderstanding comes when they try to do both at the same time. Let's play the scene back, but this time with a difference.
Laura: "Rob, are you asleep?"
Laura: "Rob, I've got something really important to talk to you about. Can you wake up enough to listen, or would it be better if I waited until tomorrow?"
Rob: "Just a minute. It sounds important. Let me get a glass of water and wake up."
Laura: "Thanks, I really need to talk."
The difference here is that Laura took the time to tell Rob that she needed to talk, and Rob had a chance to respond.
Often, that's all it takes. Giving the other person a clear signal that you need their undivided attention will usually get it, or an agreement to spend some time talking later. Either way, you both win.
So, the next time you've got a deep subject that can't wait, wait. Wait long enough to give a clear signal that you need some time and some attention. You'll get both.