Police Interview Newsletter - Listening to Differences

Volume 2, Issue 4
April, 2003

In last month's issue of Police Interview (March '03- Marital Distress), I listed some possible early warning signs of marital problems. I encouraged readers to do a personal inventory for the purposes of: (1) assessing the quality of your marital relationship and (2) starting to address areas of your marriage that may need some attention.

A quick reminder: If you identify significant tensions or struggles between you and your spouse, try to work on the relationship constructively by admitting your own faults and contributions to the problem. Avoid defensive finger pointing.

This issue and the next several issues of Police Interview Newsletter will focus on teaching skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can strengthen your marital relationship, improve problem solving, and help you to manage conflicts more constructively.


Differences Attract Us To One Another

In the context of mate selection, it is often said that “differences attract.” And, that is often true in relationships - at least initially. Planful, responsible individuals might easily connect with others more free- spirited and spontaneous. An active, take-charge person could understandably fall in love with a more accommodating, deferential, even shy partner. Those from more chaotic, unpredictable backgrounds seem almost magnetically drawn to lovers who appear to hail from more stable, “Leave-it-to- Beaver” families. People are intrigued by the novel and unfamiliar!

This dynamic is particularly powerful, and potentially risky, when people fall in love. At it's best, this attraction of differences can lead to a wonderfully satisfying and complementary relationship that grows and develops over time. It is more likely, however, that as time passes individual differences will lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

Because differences between people seem to grow stronger and more disruptive as the years pass, it is critically important to strive to understand and truly value your spouse's uniqueness and the ways that he or she thinks, feels, and experiences life events. By so doing you will recognize that interpersonal differences can enrich the relationship rather than becoming sources of conflict or hurt.


The “Talk-Listen” Exercise

(Intimate Partners, Maggie Scarf, Random House, Inc., 1987, pp. 190-194)

One very effective way for couples to begin to better appreciate their individual differences, while experiencing a clear sense of self identity and interpersonal security, is to employ the “Talk-Listen” Exercise developed by Maggie Scarf. I have found this exercise (even daily practice) to be immensely helpful to those couples that I see in marital therapy. So, I often assign it as homework to be done between marital treatment sessions. Couples can do this exercise on their own if they follow the directions exactly.

Directions for this “Talk-Listen” Exercise are quoted directly from Maggie Scarf's book, Intimate Partners, (p. 190-191) as follows:

“The members of the couple are asked to select a particular hour, during the forthcoming week, and to agree that this time is to be spent together with no interruptions allowed. They are then asked to decide, perhaps by the flip of a coin, who will be entitled to the first half hour of that segment of time. The mate who goes first (let us say, the wife) is then in charge of the family microphone and is instructed to talk about her own self only. She is not permitted to say anything pertaining to her spouse, or about their relationship, at all.

The other partner is enjoined to listen attentively, but to make no verbal response whatsoever. After this part of the task has been completed (i.e., when the half hour is over), the speaker and the listener positions are switched. The second partner talks, and the first one gives him her complete attention with no interruptions allowed. Any discussion of the mate or the marriage is, as before forbidden.

He, during his half hour, is to talk about himself as a separate person- the things he thinks about; his life; his joys; his hurts. The rules ordain, in short, that each spouse take a period of time to talk about his or her own needs, desires, wishes, frustrations, fantasies, and so forth-so long as what is said involves the speaker alone. They ordain, as well, that the listener remain quiet and give an attentive hearing to whatever it is that's being said.

At the end of the hour, when both partners have talked and both have listened, the homework is complete. (The following week they may want to reverse the order in which they speak.) A final and very important part of the instruction is, however, that when the task is finished, no discussion of it is to take place. The members of the couple are, simply, to resume their lives without saying anything further on the subject.

What is critically important about this exercise is that the partners cannot respond to each other. The jobs of talking and listening are rotated, then further conversation on the subject is disallowed (until the next therapy session). For those couples who want to try carrying out these tasks on their own, they would agree to postpone all discussions of the exercise for at least three days after its completion.”

Advantages To Doing “Talk-Listen” Exercise on Regular Basis:

• Helps spouses to truly listen to partner's experiences and concerns
• Informs your partner of your needs, wants, and expectations
• Provides safe place to speak without interruption
• Promotes healthy sense of each spouse's separateness & individuality
• Gives chance to vent frustrations and struggles
• Offers respect for your mate's sense of autonomy
• Supports a healthy sense of personal boundaries in the marriage
• Makes emotional closeness to one's partner more possible
• Offers chance to talk about one's concerns without feeling guilty
• Helps each partner focus on his/her own development as a person
• Helps each person to “own” their struggles and unique challenges
• Challenges each partner to deal better with human aloneness.

As you become more acquainted and comfortable with the “Talk- Listen” Exercise, you can expect to enjoy a greater sense of appreciation for your spouse. A good measure of marital intimacy is the extent to which each spouse is comfortable being himself in the other's presence. Differences do attract. And, as we continue to strive to understand and to value our partner, with all of their quirks and preferences, marriages can grow and flourish over time.


Phone: 804-353-6700
Fax: 804-358-7867
Email: MacHart@PoliceInterview.com

Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
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Suite 103
Richmond, VA. 23230

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