Saturday, July 26, 2008

Don't Be Dumb

It's been said at least 4.586 x 1047 times that the key to any good relationship is good communication. There are millions of articles, a sea of books, a constellation of web posts that lead off with this and then go in to way too much mumbo jumbo to actually be helpful. Most of these are written by egg head types who mostly want to show off how smart they are and who are also likely getting paid by the word. Most of these also involve a lot of hard work and determination, which, let's face it, we as Americans just aren't really that into anymore. And really, who has the presence of mind to remember a list of steps to better communication when you're in the middle of having difficulty communicating.So here's a tip that's brief, highly effective, and doesn't involve much work.

Early on in our marriage my wife instituted the "Don't Be Dumb" clause. Simply stated, this phrase can be instituted any time one party is acting irrationally, is failing to see the big picture, or just plain needs a good backing down. The key to this is to set it up in advance. For most people, just saying, "Honey, don't be dumb." is asking for trouble unless both parties understand the usage.

We didn't do that ourselves, but once she had used it on me a few times, I started to catch on. The phrase is never to be used in anger, and knowing this the recipient will not have reason to be offended and can more easily shift to an objective point of view. Once you've been Don't Be Dumb-ed, it's your responsibility to take a look at the bigger picture and listen to what the Don't Be Dumb-er (I'll just let that one lie) has to say to you.

Another technique that works well is the Time Out. We put our kids in time out all the time when they're misbehaving. There was one occasion when I got home from work and my wife was riding our daughter like a ten speed bike for every little noise she made. I didn't think that Miss O was being particularly annoying, so it must have been that The Queen Mum was overloaded with her royal duties and thus overly sensitive. So I got in front of her, made her meet my eyes, and calmly but firmly put my wife in Time Out. She took a walk, sat down in the garden, had a snack, and came back like a new person. Since then she has even taken to putting herself in time out, when she starts to sense that she's riding the kids unfairly.

Just a little something that works for us. A lot of people have told us things like, "Oh, I could never say that to my spouse." or "I would be so offended if someone said that to me." And to them we responded... "Don't be dumb."