The inspiration for this month’s article was sparked by a conversation I had with a colleague of mine while standing at the vending machine in our office lunchroom.
I noticed that my friend was not his usual happy self. He confessed his wife was mad at him and he didn’t know what he had done wrong.
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship longer than 10 seconds knows communication is the key to keeping it happy and stress-free.
Good communication begins with listening. And the golden rule of listening is:
God gave you two ears and one mouth. So listen twice as much as you speak.
It was advice my vending machine friend had forgotten when his wife asked him the scariest question in the history of curiosity: “Honey, do these pants make me look fat?”
When asked that question, you have to use extreme caution if you chose to practice the aforementioned golden rule.
If you listen for a nanosecond too long, you might as well grab your dunce cap and go sit in the corner.
Interjecting short statements or questions into a conversation is also a good way to show people you’re really listening to them.
“Oh, honey, forget the pants. That blouse is gorgeous” would have saved the day for my friend.
“Fat? Well, it all depends what you mean by fat” would have sent him running for his life.
Another important rule of communication is: silence is golden. In fact, saying nothing is often the best way to speak your mind.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the ‘fat/not fat question,’ that’s a gold you don’t want to dig.
On the other hand, if you answer too quickly or too enthusiastically, you won’t win either. “You are magnificent just the way you are!” By the time this leaves your mouth to the time it lands in someone’s ear, your well-meaning answer has been translated into: “You have no right to even think you would fit into those pants.”
You might consider lying. “You’re not fat. In fact, I’m glad you brought it up because you’re starting to look like one of those anorexic runway models from Brazil.”
You might contemplate being honest. “Yes, honey, you’re fat but I still love you just the way you are.” (Try this if you think it would be fun to plan your own funeral.)
My friend, however, had committed the mortal sin of indifference. His answer had been to roll his eyes and walk away muttering: “Oh, no, not again.”
I was amazed he still had full use of both his legs.
Now, if he’d really listened, he would have realized his wife had already decided where the responsibility for her alleged fatness lay.
She had not asked “Do I look fat?” Her question was “Do these pants make me look fat?” If she did indeed look fat, clearly the pants were to blame.
(Caution: If you want your key to the front door to work next time you come home, don’t say: “Wow! We really got our money’s worth with that new dryer. It’s shrinking all your clothes!”)
But you see, the question had nothing to do with her weight. And if my friends had cleaned out the wax from one of his two ears long enough, he would have heard the real question his wife was asking.
And nothing proves you’re listening as when you answer not the question being asked, but the question hidden underneath.
“Honey, I may not say it often enough, but, yes, I love you.”