I would like to share some strategies for more effective communication that have helped my wife Abby and I over the years. We have shared these with some other couples and they report that they are as helpful as any article in "Modern Marriage."
The "How Badly Do You Want Me to Do That?" Scale (HBDYWMTDT)
Many times in the life of two busy people, an event comes along that is mostly in the wheelhouse of just one of the two and yet it would be nice if the spouse showed up. It is often difficult for the auxiliary spouse to figure out whether or not they need to go to this since they are not in possession of all the details. In these cases, the following scale makes the level of importance clear so that the auxiliary spouse can make a decision at their own peril with the relevant weightiness of an event on the table.
- I swear to God I do not care if you come to this, but you might want to. If you don't come, I may not even notice.
- Eh. It might be nice for you to come, but if you have something else going on or you are really busy, it's OK. I guess.
- Well. People might notice if you weren't there. No big deal, but I kinda want you to come to this. You will use up a point or two by not coming and gain a point by doing it.
- Yes. I need you to come to this. It's pretty important to me. If you don't come, I will be a little mad and may use it against you in the future.
- If you don't do this I am filing for divorce.
The BS Indicator
Often in the course of marital discussions one of the two will make some sort of assertion about the state of the world. It is sometimes helpful to announce in these situations, the degree of certainty that the speaker has about his or her proclamations.
- I have just finished doing research on this issue and can provide relevant footnotes. This fact is as clear and certain to me as my middle name. If you doubt me I will be annoyed if not angry.
- I think that I read an article about this in the New York Times last year. Probably. I wouldn't bet the farm on it, but I have good reason to think that it is true. If you doubt me I may say, "Well, people are entitled to their own opinions."
- This fact seems reasonable to me based on my experience and logic. If it isn't documented, it should be. I will say this fact with the same certainty as #1, but I am really winging it here, hoping you won't notice. If I say a number with this ranking, it is understood to be an estimate or even a guestimate. Within an order of magnitude. Maybe. If you doubt me I will just shrug my shoulders.
This scale has also known to have been used to call an unranked assertion into question. "O give me a break! That's a 3!" It has the advantage of avoiding the namecalling of "liar!" or "that's BS!"
The Hunger Game
In the day-to-day negotiations that make up a marriage, deciding when the team is going to eat is a major deliberation. In such debates, it is important to be able to know exactly how hungry the participant is. For some folks, there is an inverse relationship between hunger and general pleasantness. In our house, we call that condition where the hunger level gets bad "hangry" or "grumpy hungry." To know that a person is in this condition may help general strategies of negotiations and lead to a greater sensitivity and even forgiveness. While this is a 1-10 scale, it is my personal opinion that it only needs to be 1-5 since our ability to accurately determine our hunger degrades as we become more hungry.
- I am not hungry. I am uncomfortably full. Talking about eating again makes me a bit nauseous. I am not eating for several days.
- I am not hungry. Why would you even ask.
- I am not hungry. I am not full, but I am not hungry.
- Hmm. I could eat a little something, but not really hungry.
- Peckish. I have something going on that might be called hunger, but I could be just bored or it is the result of smelling the neighbor's BBQ.
- I am pretty hungry, but I can still talk about it. I may even be able to discuss the relative merits of that new place on Union Street and whether or not we should go there. While I an not terribly hungry, I do want you to know that at this point, it could get ugly quickly, so take note.
- Without a doubt, I am hungry. At this point, the idea of chopping vegetables and cooking them for a bit is simply out of the question. Cheese and crackers are now very important for the maintenance of domestic tranquility. Restaurant choices now have to do with proximity.
- I am really really hungry. I cannot think or reason effectively enough to even tell you what I want to eat or where. You need to take me someplace and put me in front of a plate of food or I will bite you. At a restaurant, I will order 3 or 4 appetizers and perhaps 2 entrees and later wonder how that happened.
- Listen buddy, do not get between me and a cheese sandwich or I cannot be responsible. I will snap at servers and you until the food comes. Alcohol may help a little, but it's a real gamble. I will eat all the bread in the basket without a thought of sharing. I will sit at the bar and frown until food arrives.
- If I do not eat in the next 5 minutes, I will die. And I will take you with me.
These are helpful metrics, and we use them regularly, but I think we could to better. All the wasted words of the day could be reduced to numbers, including the questions for which the above metrics apply. I can see a world where we can have a whole conversation like:
He: Tonko fundraiser tomorrow at the Stockade Inn at 6. It's a 3.
He: OK. I have a 34 today, so 43.
He: (kissing her, says suggestively) 48?
She: 32 (which means "in your dreams")
See how much easier life can be?
Please note that these categories are a 3.