by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: My husband and I love each other, but it seems that he never wants to deal with the issues that cause the problems in our marriage. Instead, he is likely to brush off my request for time to talk about such things as balancing the checkbook, or even issues related to disciplining our children. I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do.
It sounds like you need to learn LUV Talk. LUV Talk is an adaptation of Reflective Listening developed by Dr. Michel Smalley. It provides the couple with rules or guidelines for dealing with conflict. Most couples don’t possess the tools necessary to deal with conflict. Often, they don’t even know what they are fighting about. In some cases, one or the other is afraid to express feelings, wants, or needs. For whatever reason, they have never taken time to clearly define what they want, need, and mean.
To illustrate the LUV Talk concept, Dr. Smalley suggests that you imagine that you are ordering at the drive-thru window of your favorite fast-food restaurant. Imagine you order a double quarter pounder, large fries, and a large coke. Further imagine, the skinny attendant looks out the window at you, pulls her head back in, and over the intercom states, “That’s not what you want. It will only make you fatter.” How might you respond? Would you ever return? Probably not! In fact, there’s a good chance that you would divorce that fast-food restaurant?
That imagined scenario is exactly what you do when your spouse comes with an order of feelings, and you fail to validate those emotions and needs. You hear the order—“I feel like you are taking the side of the children against me,” and you say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Or you say, “That really hurt my feelings,” and your spouse replies, “No it didn’t.” Feelings are just feelings (neither right nor wrong), but they are real. In both examples above, feelings were not validated.
Every time your spouse describes his or her feelings, he or she is placing an order. When you validate what was said, or requested, you are receiving their order and giving them what they asked for.
To practice LUV Talk—(1) Listen with your whole body. Observe nonverbal cues and eye contact. (2) Understand by paraphrasing what you have heard and ask questions when you are unsure. (3) Validate what the other person says by setting aside your own feelings and needs and try to truly understand and appreciate your spouse’s position. In fact, be willing to listen to things that may be hurtful and even unjustified. The person may be wrong but has a right to those feelings.
So, let’s try those same statements again. Your spouse says, “You’re not listening to what I am saying.” Practicing LUV Talk, you might respond with the simple request for your spouse to say it again, Listen very carefully, and this time, repeat back what you believe you heard, thus attempting to convey Understanding, and then Validate your spouse’s feelings that you may not have been listening as well as you should have been.
To put this in the terms of Employee and Customer, in the customer role use “I” statements, describing feelings and needs. For example, “I feel frustrated, or I need for you to be more organized.” Be clear in placing your order of feelings (take time to explain your feelings). Be concise (get to the meat of the subject). Do not criticize, blame, or yell. Simply talk about what you need. The role of the Employee is to Listen, Understand, and Validate. You can take turns playing each role, and have fun doing so.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]