The Benefits of Taking Turns with Your Spouse | Dr. Meir Wikler

In previous posts, I have written about the need for spouses to take turns with each other when discussing sensitive or controversial issues with each other. The most significant benefit of taking turns is that it affords the listener the opportunity to give full attention and concentra­tion to the speaker. Without having (or being allowed) to formu­late a rebuttal, the listener can be more tuned in and empathic to the feelings his or her spouse is trying to communicate.

Another major benefit of taking turns is that it gives the speak­er the feeling of truly being heard, sometimes for the first time in the marriage! This goes a long way toward reducing the tensions at home which are often exacerbated by the sense couples have of not being understood by one another. When your spouse cannot respond right away, you leave a con­versation with the feeling that what you have just said may sink in, at least a little bit. And even that little bit can give you hope for improvement in the relationship in the future.

Last, but certainly not least, the system of taking turns compels spouses to wait before they are “allowed” to respond to one another. By waiting until it is your turn to speak, much of the ten­sion is defused even before you begin to counter whatever your spouse was saying. In addition, it affords your spouse a chance to cool off after being the speaker so that (s)he is more receptive to switching roles and giving you your turn to be heard.

It took several weeks for Naftali* and Shifrah* to get the hang of taking turns with each other, both in my office as well as at home. They were so accustomed to interrupting each other that they had to make a concerted effort to restrain themselves.

Once they began taking turns and really hearing each other out, they were surprised how quickly they understood each other, how easily they let go of their old grievances against each other, and how soon they were able to resume the state of com­fortable compatibility which they had thought was all but lost from their marriage.

When you are taking turns with your spouse, just how long should you wait until you switch the listening and speaking roles with each other? The answer, very simply, is twenty-four hours.

_ _ _ _

*Not their real names.

Dr. Meir Wikler is a noted psychotherapist and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Lakewood, N.J. This article has been reprinted with permission of the author and publisher from Ten Minutes a Day to a Better Marriage: Getting Your Spouse to Understand You by Dr. Meir Wikler (Artscroll, 2003).

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