Problems are irritating. No one really welcomes having problems. But it is a fact of life that we will face problems in our families, and especially in our marriages. The real question is not how do we become problem-free, but how do we learn to dialogue about the problem.
Here’s what I suggest for couples. I tell them it will take about 15 minutes a day. Find a good time. Perhaps the best time is right after dinner. If the kids clear the table at your house, tell them you’ll be ready for them to do their chores in 15 minutes. Then sit there with another cup of coffee and talk together.
Now this is going to sound backwards, but the key is that you don’t use this time to talk about problems. You simply talk together as friends would. I’ve seen couples transform their marriage by simply staying at the dinner table longer and talking together as friends.
Now you can talk about a problem at times, but that’s not the purpose of the 15 minutes.
When my family was going through a very difficult time with one of our kid’s addictions, we didn’t do the 15 minutes a day–we went to breakfast every Friday morning. No exceptions. Some Fridays we would talk about how each of us was doing. Other Friday mornings we talked about issues. But sometimes we just sat together and enjoyed each other’s company. Our Friday mornings became the glue that kept us connected to each other.
What about problems with the kids? What do you do with that? Basically the same principle works with some modifications. How about a weekly family meeting–everyone is required to attend. Maybe that’s when they get their allowance. Each person gets 3-4 minutes to comment on how he or she is doing, and say what’s bothering him or her. Make it like an AA meeting where no cross-talk allowed. This means that when someone is talking, everyone just listens. No comments allowed.
Remember, though, the goal is to develop a dialogue, both within the marriage and also in the family. So with the family, once everyone has talked, then the dialogue can begin. Try it. There’s research that says one of the marks of a healthy family is that people are free to talk about what’s going on in their lives, both the good and the bad.
You might think back to the family in which you grew up–how did they handle problems? What could have been different if there had been a way to talk about things openly?