By Kathy Richman
I taught first grade for many years. Every year in my class, six year olds learned to read. I know that I was a part of this process; I worked with my students, taught them decoding skills, and introduced them to the joys of literature. One after another, they emerged as readers. There always seemed to be a kind of magic involved as I saw them “get it,” although nobody had mentioned magic during my credential classes.
Couples dialogue often seems to me to involve a kind of magic, too. Couples learn communication skills like reflective listening, checking for understanding, and taking turns as the speaker and the listener. Yet something often happens during dialogue that is more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it is the result of being held in loving witness, or looking into the eyes of one’s beloved and listening without distractions. Sometimes this magic is an “Aha!” moment, when something suddenly becomes perfectly clear. Sometimes the magic involves the uncovering of emotions that one or both partners did not realize were lying hidden beneath the surface of the dialogue. Occasionally someone says, “I felt heard in a way I never have before when we talked about this.” Partners talk about having been able to move beyond a point where they had always gotten stuck before. Dialogue is not a predictable path towards a given outcome; it is giving ourselves over to Spirit and opening ourselves to our partners “in front of God and everyone” to whatever may come.
We have had the experience of modeling a dialogue about what seemed like a minor issue, although it was a source of conflict. As we dialogued about whether whoever had called our daughters should put the conversation on speakerphone, the underlying emotions behind this conflict emerged, showing that this was about much more than whether speakerphone would be on or off. One of the workshop participants commented, “When you began this dialogue, I thought it was about something trivial. I was really struck by where the dialogue ended up, so different in depth from where it started.”
Other couples have talked about how much further their dialogue has taken them than their previous conversations on the same topic. “We’ve talked about this so many times, but today we reached an understanding of each other that hasn’t happened before. Before, each of us would just keep making the same points we’ve always made.”
Sometimes insight comes suddenly. One participant commented, “In response to my wife’s sharing I have been saying, ‘I am hearing that . . .’. But I want to try now saying, ‘I am sensing that…’ because that might help me to better appreciate the emotions behind what my wife said.”
Dialogue is central to Couple Enrichment because it is a precious gift given to us and that we keep giving through the following years of our life together.