Brent sat immersed in the evening paper, while Benjamin, having pulled all of his toys out of the toy box, yanked and punched the television off-on switch until the staccato noise brought me from the kitchen to remark, in a voice tingling with exasperation, “Aren’t you paying any attention to that boy?”
As usual, there was no nod, no “uh um,” from behind the paper. Sensing we had gone this round too many times without results, I decided to try a new approach. “There’s an elephant running across the top of your newspaper,” I said in a calm, soft voice.
The very lack of excitement in my voice gained the instant attention of both husband and Benjamin. “What?” my husband asked anxiously.
“I just said there was an elephant running across the top of your newspaper,” and I turned and walked into the kitchen, almost tripping over Jeremy, who had been playing quietly by the door.
The silence in the living room proved the tactic’s success. Then Brent said, “Come on, boys, time for bed.” After putting them to bed, he joined me in the kitchen.
“Did you have anything special you wanted to do tonight?” he asked as he helped himself to a cookie.
“Not really,” I replied.
“I was just thinking that maybe we needed to talk, and wondered if you’d like to play a game.”
“What kind? We don’t have an overabundant selection,” I smiled. Brent was not what one could call an ardent game fan.
“I call it my ‘Let’s Start Talking Again’ game,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for several weeks now, and I think tonight would be a good time to start.”
“Okay,” I said. A game to encourage conversation with your husband once in a while couldn’t prove harmful in any respect. We sat down at the kitchen table. As Brent went through the rules and examples he had compiled, I knew this was just the type of activity people need to create new interest in their marriage.
The game was designed to help individuals understand each other through mutual participation and involvement. Brent adapted the rules so we could play the entire game in four days. Then, after we understood it, we could continue on a regular basis.
“We’ve got to remember that each person should get equal time,” he said, hinting that occasionally I tended to interrupt or talk longer than he did.
“The equal-time rule will give us a greater appreciation of each other’s personal goals and desires—as well as many of our own.
“If we find this game helpful, when Benjamin and our other children get older, we can play this game with the whole family on a regular basis,” he continued.
We decided complete honesty was essential. Since both of us have a tendency to hold back unpleasant ideas occasionally, the honesty principle was basic.
“Our goal is to produce constructive relationships,” Brent noted. “All comments must therefore be positive. We’ll define positive qualities as those that we admire or like in a person, while negative qualities are those we would like to see changed or that disturb us. The rule is two positive statements to every negative statement.”
From his folder Brent removed two small notebooks and two new pens. “These are our game materials,” he said. “We’ll keep track of our activities, ideas and discussions in the notebooks.”
Discover the Day
The first section of the game involved writing down our day’s activities. We took about fifteen minutes to list every activity of the day. Using half-hour intervals proved helpful. Part of my schedule looked something like this:
Wake, bathe, and dress.
Bathe and feed baby.
Breakfast for Brent
Clean up morning dishes.
Clean house, make beds, sweep floor, vacuum.
More of the above.
Write letters and play with Benjie.
We then marked down the time we spent together and what we did. After glancing over our schedules, we realized we had only done two things together all day—eat breakfast and dinner.
“Why do you suppose we do certain things at certain times and on certain days?” I asked.
“That’s what we are going to find out. And we will want to discuss whether our activities cause conflicts for each other so we can solve them.” Brent explained.
After talking over the aspects of our schedules, we could see more clearly that changing the times we did some things—such as washing the dishes or cleaning—could give us more time together.
Qualities and Quirks
The following evening after the children were in bed, we played the second segment of our game. The purpose of this section was to help us understand how others see us, and to help others understand how we see ourselves.
“Now we are going to make two columns on the paper,” Brent said, “one for positive qualities and the other for negative qualities. Number from one to ten twice under the positive heading and number from one to five twice under the negative heading. Now, write ten complimentary qualities about yourself and five negative aspects of your personality; and after the second set of numbers list ten of my positive personality traits and five negative traits. I’ll do the same on my paper.”
This was the hardest segment of the game. It seems occasionally we get so caught up in our day-to-day activities that we forget to see the other person as an individual having feelings and desires. We then tend to brush past each other’s good qualities and spend time dwelling on the negative aspects of the other’s personality.
I said about myself that I was helpful, meaning that I did things around the house like making the beds, washing the dishes, etc., and under the negative qualities I listed impulsive, meaning that sometimes I got carried away by the idea and didn’t look at the whole picture.
“Now about you,” I sighed. “You’re ambitious, meaning that you set high standards and you complete them, but you do get a little domineering occasionally by telling me what to do. How’s that?”
“That’s just what I want,” he said, kissing me. “Be sure to put a definition beside each term, so that when we discuss them it will be easy for you to recall what you mean.”
The afternoon before the third evening, I began to get excited. Brent explained that the purpose of the section was to help us gain a broad understanding of the other’s interests. “The whole point,” he said, “is to develop mutual interests.”
Explaining this phase of the game, Brent pointed out that we would write down five areas of personal interest and five areas “you think” interest the other person. During our discussion period he reminded me of the equal-time clause and said it is important not to make value judgments by saying, “Oh, you don’t really like that, do you?”
We spent a wonderful evening trying to understand how he could like painting without my realizing it before. We also discussed several interests we might both enjoy.
These evenings began to add new spice to our relationship. The evening newspaper drag and the television channel switching became unimportant as we learned more about each other.
Harvest of Hobbies
The fourth day of our new game was one of the finest activities my husband and I have ever spent together. The theme was hobbies. The common activity some hobbies require can bring deeper understanding to a relationship. This section of the game brought new levels of understanding and love.
“List ten things you like or might like to participate in,” Brent said. “Then on another paper list ten hobbies or activities you think I might like to participate in. It’s important to list things we can do together.”
From our lists we chose oil painting. Our first experiments have been works to behold, but we will keep trying. We may next take up walking, gardening, or any one of a dozen hobbies we have found in common.
Some of our friends have tried our ideas, others scoff and say, “We know just about all there is to know about each other.” These people may always remain ignorant of each other’s needs and desires, but the involvement and understanding we have gained are proving vital to our continued development and to our love.