When we have a group of friends over at the house, out comes the ping pong table or the air hockey. A few good hours of macho fun and celebratory remarks all leads to a lot of laughing and bonding.
Do you play ping pong with your wife? (or husband!) I mean, ping pong without the table. Rather, in your relationship. Here, let me give you an example:
Husband: "Oh man, I had such a bad day at work today!"
Wife: "Oh yeah, me too! The kids were just awful all day. I am exhausted!"
Wife: "I really feel frustrated when I see clothes all over the floor"
Husband: "I know what you mean, you leave your dishes all over the living room"
Ping-ponging, as I like to call it, is when emotions are shared from one partner to the other, followed by the other partner immediately sharing their emotions right back. This can often go back and forth, just like playing ping-pong, where each person keeps taking a stab at the ball (or the emotion) without either of them "leaning in" and feeling their partners emotions.
I think many of these ping-pong effects occur when one brings up an issue and the other person immediately becomes defensive. This then causes individuals to feel unheard, disrespected and discredited.
Effective communication stiplulates that when one person is expressing, the other person needs to be listening, not planning a response. This is hard to do, especially if you disagree. That moment when your partner is expressing their feelings is not the time for you to agree or disagree. Quite frankly, your opinion at that very moment doesn't really matter. It's about listening and "leaning in emotionally" to your partner. Try to feel what they feel.
Leave the ping-ponging to the table and avoid using this in your marriage!
With 90% of my appointments are with couples, I have met with many. Different cultural backgrounds. Different ages. Different life experiences. And each couple comes to counselling with different concerns and issues. However, I have noticed some common themes among couples who are struggling to be happy.
The one word that seems to apply to most unhappy relationships is the word FEAR. Think about it for a sec. It's not frustration. It's not anger or disappointment, although those emotions may be present as well. But the foundation is fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of being inferior. Fear of repeating your parents marriage. Fear of divorce. Fear of losing out. Fear of losing control. This list can go on and on.
We behave negatively because of that fear. We may lash out because we are afraid of being controlled by someone else. We may run away from a fight because of our fear of conflict, believing that conflict wil result in physical punishment.
Take a moment right now and think back to a heated argument you had. What was your FEAR in that very moment? Move away all of the chaos and the actual issue that you were fighting about. Think about your behavior. Can you see how it may be fear based? Now knowing what the fear is, what does it tell you about yourself? Can you see that fear manifesting itself at other times in your relationship?
As I sit here about an hour to go before ringing in the new year, I sense there are a lot of nervous guys out there looking at the clock, palms sweating, thinking about what is about to take place. At midnight we ring in the new year. For some, they are also ringing in a proposal to their girlfriends. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you! My love, will you marry me?!"
Over the next several months there will be a lot of preparation for the wedding day. The cake, the dress, the music and venue. Oh, the guest list. Stress, excitement, nerves, doubts. All of it is normal. But I wonder how much thought is put into the actual marriage. Personalities, communication, conflict resolution, individual and family goals, in-laws, finances, sexual intimacy, family planning. Oh the list goes on! How much time do couples really put into these conversations before their wedding?
Considering divorce rates are near 50%, and second marriages around 70%, it is imperitive that planning is at the forefront. Pre-marital counselling (a must in many US states!) will guide the couple through conversations that needs to happen. But not just conversations. Structure, tools, techniques and awareness of yourself and each other.
If you know someone who is getting married, do them a favor. Buy them a pre-marital counselling/planning package. It's personal, its useful and its affordable. In fact, it's cheaper than the wedding cake!