A couple of years ago Greg and I attended a counseling retreat – that concentrated on intense communication between married couples. We got to know several couples at this retreat in all stages of marriage – who had lost the ability to effectively communicate. The retreat was led by a couple of counselors who had many suggestions to encourage the communication and health between spouses.
One such technique was using a teddy bear. The spouse that had possession of the teddy bear – could do ALL the talking without interruption. It was a “safe zone” for the spouse that held the bear. And as long as they held it – they could do all the talking. After they were done – they would pass the bear to their spouse and their spouse would be given the same treatment while holding the bear – no interruption – no fear. This required intense listening – and validation to the partner who was speaking. The idea being of course, that partner with the bear would affirm the other and say, “I hear what you’re saying….” or “I understand how you could feel that way…” thus verifying that they really heard – and not just sitting there thinking of something else.
Until last night – we had not used this communication technique and had almost forgotten about it. We were having what you might call a “difference of opinion” and I could see that the “discussion” was going no where – no one really listening to the other at all. No – in fact – we were both talking at each other – no positive interaction or exchange. The discussion had pressed some “fear” buttons and immediately we went into a very familiar “dance” of words and programmed responses brought on by what we were interpreting as non-validation. It was easy for us to slip into, “What??? I did not say that!” or “You ALWAYS say that” “You’re not hearing me” or “That did NOT happen like that” etc. This went on for some time until I remembered the retreat – grabbed a teddy bear that usually sits on the pink wing-backed chair in our entry way and grasped him firmly. I brought him into the family room where Greg was sitting on the couch and announced, “I have the teddy bear”.
Of course this brought smiles and chuckles of recognition from him – but he continued to talk, saying, “HEY – I wasn’t through!” “You know the rules” I said, “The one in possession of the teddy bear – gets to speak”.
And so we continued in this fashion – smiling the whole time – but also realizing that there is something to this after all. A “safe zone” where the one in possession can speak freely without interruption – forcing the other to really listen and NOT say anything. It forces one to “button the lip” as it were.
It was amazing what happened after that – maybe the mood was different – maybe we both just started listening more – I don’t know, but I do know that we were able to dig a little deeper into some past issues that had been lying dormant – all with the bear on our laps. And it was not long before the real issue came out and we were able to identify it – with no fear – only validation and recognition.
There is something about a teddy bear. Ask any child who has one. They are sweet – and you want to hug them. They make you smile and feel like a child again. And you just cannot be mad at a person who is holding one – try it and see if you can!
There are many methods to resolving marital conflict – this is just one that seems to really work – because it is a visual reminder that unless you are holding the bear – you cannot talk – you have to listen, be supportive and validate the one talking. And I suppose that is at the heart of most miscommunication – wanting to be validated and feel heard.
Next time you have a disagreement – try bringing a teddy bear into the room with you – and suggest that your spouse hold it – and then really listen as they talk. It will amaze you as you feel the tension in the room lighten up and you find listening skills you never knew either of you had :)
Whose turn is it to hold the bear?
Can you sit still without interrupting until your spouse is finished speaking?
Are you one that encourages and validates your spouse?
Try it today!