First, a shout-out to Dr. Gary Chapman. I interviewed him years ago, and I am piggybacking on his concept in this title.
There are probably very few people who we don’t want to tell to shut up at some point. And when it comes to our partners, wouldn’t it be great to have a way to communicate in front of others that we want them to stop talking without making the situation worse by telling them to shut up?
Instead of being rude and embarrassing our partners, let’s plan for such a moment years ahead of time by creating a new language with them. This will be a language with physical signs and subtle verbal cues.
Avoiding embarrassment when we want our partners be quiet is not the only situation best served by discrete communication. We may need to ask our partners to calm down or signal a desire to speak privately. We may also want them to know we think something isn’t a good idea.
Imagine that we’re at a dinner party with friends. One of the friends proposes that everyone have dinner at someone’s house tomorrow. We are excited and say, “Sure!” However, our partner is sensitive to how they are perceived and doesn’t want to be the person who says, “No, we can’t do it,” even though they don’t want to go. Our partner thus stays quiet, and everyone agrees on tomorrow’s plans. Once we leave, our partner is livid that we committed us to attending without seeking their counsel.
Now imagine that the same proposal was made, and we looked at our partner. When we looked at them, we saw them give the sign that means “no”—they gently stroked the bridge of their nose with their index finger and thumb. Or perhaps they gave the sign that means “I would like to talk about this away from other people”—a ten-second blink of the eyes. If we care about our partner’s concerns and are paying attention, we might sidestep an argument and avoid needing to reverse a public decision.
Sometimes the situation may be more serious than an unwanted dinner invitation. Perhaps we are in a confrontation with a stranger. Our partner is witnessing the situation unfold and knows that it is on the brink of getting out of hand. They don’t want to give the appearance that they are on the side of the stranger by saying “calm down” to us. After all the stranger might say something that further escalates the situation, like “Yeah. Calm down.” Our partner wants to help cooler heads prevail while remaining sensitive to everyone’s perceptions.
To communicate their thoughts, our partner used the phrase that meant, “Maintain a cool head. A senseless escalation is occurring.” That phrase was “Baby, I’m getting a bit dizzy.” When we hear that, we know our partner wants us to take a deep breath or relax or walk away from the situation.
These discrete signals and phrases may also be helpful in parenting. Imagine if one day our child asks, “Can I go across the street to the store?” Parent 1 says “no,” which is immediately followed by parent 2 saying “yes.” We may have just taught the child that if they want to go to the store in the future, they need to ask parent 2. After all, parent 2 said “yes” this time. If this occurs, the child is using the parents’ dissent to their own advantage.
Instead, imagine that both parents silently communicate with each other and come to an agreement before either utters a word. There would be little for the child to use to their advantage in the future. And the answer would simply be “no” from the parental unit.
These examples of communication can help to save face, avoid a public conflict, and further nurture our loving culture.
Naturally, these languages will not happen without an agreement and investment between the relationship parties:
- Agree on the importance of creating these language;
- Collaborate to create the language; and
- Practice using the language.
Hopefully, this contributes to a more loving relationship between the two of you. Or perhaps you are already doing this. If so, please share your strategies. If not, what are your thoughts on the suggestion outlined in this blog? Your feedback is requested and appreciated.
Frank Love coaches individuals who are in (or wish to be in) a relationship on ways to be more loving. He is also the author of “Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway)” and “25 Ways to Be Loving.” To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.