Friday, October 16, 2009

Communicating WOW/GOW Issues Using The Three Cs

Many GOWs/WOWs are hesitant to discuss their needs and issues with their Ws for a variety of reasons. Some feel their Ws already have enough to worry/think/grieve about, so why add to his burdens? Others dare not upset the delicate balance of peace they have worked so hard to achieve within their relationships, so why risk "fixing something that ain't broken"? Still others are just so used to walking on eggshells around their Ws' grief needs - while putting their own needs on the back burner - that they cannot even fathom asking their Ws to talk about the thousands of LW pictures around the house, her clothes still hanging in their closet, or her toxic relatives. To these GOWs/WOWs, discussing such things would appear selfish, demanding, or otherwise insensitive to their poor Ws and the grief journey itself.


Quieting a need and burying it deep inside does nothing to fix it. In fact, the very act of pushing your needs and issues aside for whatever reason breeds resentment against the one person whom you want to understand you. Exposing a negative need or issue to the light by airing it out is the only way to turn it into a positive.

Mood is important, so I advise against airing issues in the heat of anger, or at at time of a W's grief episode/trigger. To have a truly productive discussion, timing is everything. Having a chat right before bedtime, especially when a man is exhausted from a hard day's work, is not going to be very productive. Location is also key: I wouldn't recommend having a discussion in a public place or someone else's home. Once you have the right mood, atmosphere, place, and time, you have to express your message in such a way that it will be received with the same sensitivity as you deliver it, so that it will be heard and understood.

The keys to the successful delivery of your message lie within what I call The Three Cs: communication, cooperation, and compromise.

The first "C" - Communication - is about the shared experience of discussing one topic. It is not about one person hopping on their personal soapbox and giving an oration. Communication requires equality. It is about both parties participating in a give-and-take form of discussion. Communicating your GOW/WOW need or issue to your W is not about declaring what upsets you and then leaving it up to him to figure out a solution. It is about opening the doors of opportunity - the opportunity to grow your relationship through mutual understanding. It is about making yourself clear enough to be understood. This is no time to be vague. You have to summon all the courage you can, and state your feelings, not the issue itself. Instead of stating, "You still wear your LW's wedding ring and that's just wrong!" you want to address how it makes you FEEL by using "I" statements, such as "I feel sad when I see you wearing your LW's wedding ring, and it makes me feel second best in your heart." Using "you" statements, such as "You make me feel like second best by wearing your LW's wedding ring!" is not productive and will only put your W on the defensive. It's amazing how the DELIVERY of a message makes all the difference!

The second "C" - Cooperation - is about entering into a discussion with the intent to work together towards a solution. You MUST decide, prior to a discussion, that your sole purpose for communicating your needs and issues is mutual understanding for the health of your relationship. Thus, using ultimatums is no way to earn your partner's cooperation. Saying "Take that wedding ring off right now or else I'm outta here!" may be what you truly feel when you are hurt, but maturity dictates that you instead go to your partner with a positive attitude and agree to work WITH him, not against him. Cooperation is also about listening as well as talking. When you communicate, it's not all about you, but it's not all about him, either. You each have an equal opportunity to express yourselves. In an ideal discussion, one person has the "floor", while the other listens without interruption. When that person is done, then the other person can have the floor...and so on.

Once you have communicated your issue, and you each have cooperated by patiently listening to each other without interruption, knowing the purpose of your discussion is a positive, productive way to get to a solution, the next step is the last "C" - Compromise.

Compromise is also a give-and-take action. In fact, it is THE ULTIMATE give-and-take, because you EACH have to give a little to get a little. Compromise means you aren't going to get everything you hoped for, but you'll get something you can live with. For example, using the same issue illustration of a W wearing his LW's wedding ring, you might arrive at a compromise wherein the W gets to keep it, but agrees to put it in a place where you do not have to see it constantly on his finger, perhaps in a special jewelry box or a safe deposit box at your local bank. He has to give up wearing it, but gets to keep it. YOU get the satisfaction of not having to see it on his finger all the time, but you have to give him the choice about what to do with it after it comes off his finger. I believe this compromise is one both parties can live with.

By using The Three Cs, the couple in the illustration arrive at a solution that is satisfactory to both. But best of all, they do so with their relationship intact, without resentment, and with a deeper respect for the other's ability to speak up, listen sensitively, and work positively in a healthy atmosphere of loving kindness.