(by Brandee Shafer; paintings by Connie Kottman)

When our marriage counselor Adam recommended a process of communication called reflective listening, I was raring to go. Confident, too, because–if I had a Native American name–it would be The Communicator. I know how to listen to other people: sure nuff do. No problem.

I didn’t realize I’d need to listen to silence. Nor did I realize: I don’t know how to listen to silence, and doing it hurts me. Just being asked to do it hurts me.

The first time my husband Jim called a time-out, I disregarded it. He hadn’t followed the reflective-listening process up to that point, after all, and didn’t seem particularly inclined to follow it after. So…what? He thought he could just call a random time-out? I felt sure Adam would back me up.

But Adam didn’t. “You need to respect the time-out,” he told me, “even if Jim doesn’t follow the rest of the process. By the way,” Adam asked, “when have you called a time-out?”

“I’ve never called a time-out,” I offered smugly.

“That’s a problem,” he said.

The second time Jim called a time-out, I stopped talking but cried hot, quiet tears. The third time, I protested: “But I don’t want to take a time-out! Why are you time-outing me? I’m completely calm!”

But Jim was upset. My disregard did nothing to help.

“It hurts when he calls a time-out,” I complained to Adam, later. “I feel silenced and just so angry about it.”

“Push past the hurt and anger,” Adam said, “and try to figure out what scares you about time-outs. Then you’ll be getting somewhere.”

A thousand light bulbs went off in my head as I considered:

  • I fear the issue will go unresolved.
  • I fear my perspective will go unheard.
  • I fear my feelings will go unacknowledged.
  • I fear the relationship will be permanently damaged.
  • I fear, ultimately, that I will have to “get over it” by myself.

And, in all fairness (or unfairness, depending upon how you look at it), life has taught me: these are legitimate concerns. Now that I’ve named them, I need to learn to trust my husband with them. I need to give him the opportunity (also the space and time he needs) to prove my concerns unnecessary.

So this is my word to my own, beloved man: I aim to do it, to trust you. I choose, right this very minute, to see the cup of our marriage as half full, and I plan to watch it run over, in good time. 

I intend to watch sparks fly out the top of that cup, My Darling, and light you up. You’re my person. All the magic has always been–and will always be–right where you are.

(post by Brandee Shafer who blogs at Smooth Stones

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