“You know, Joe and I have a great relationship,” started Marilyn in the first counseling session. “We do things together,” she continued, “and our love life is good. We share common interests. The problem is, though, we never talk. You know, just sit down and talk. So that’s why I thought marital counseling might be helpful. You know, just to learn to talk more with each other.”
As their therapist, I let Marilyn continue for a while. Joe sat on his end of the couch, staring at his hands. Occasionally, he sighed, or nodded in agreement with his wife. Once, he started to say something, but Marilyn shushed him and directed him to let her finish.
Finally, I put my hand up in a stop motion to Marilyn and, after she stopped talking, then I turned to Joe. “So, Joe,” I started, “why do you think that you and your wife don’t, just, you know, ever talk much?”
“Well, I,” Joe started to respond, but Marilyn tried to cut him off and answer for him. “He just…” I stopped her again, gently put my index finger to my lips, and took a deep breath. Marilyn hushed and looked expectantly to her husband.
“You see, Doc, I can’t get a word in edgewise,” he said, continuing, “She talks for the both of us, so I just nod in agreement and go about my business.”
A lot of parents also feel shut out of their children’s lives. Especially teens tend to keep their own company, until given time and space to talk. The cure for such family dynamics is for parents to listen in general and to active listen in particular. Listening to hear your child’s feelings will open them up to want to share more with you.
Also, when time and circumstances allow, ask about their day, their schoolwork, their activities, their friends. These things are their world and you can enter it with permission when you ask. Don’t settle for one-word responses from your child. Be playful but persistent in drawing them into a conversation with you. And remember, the conversation is about them, not about you. So, keep in mind that you will get farther doing more listening than talking.