Al Switzler is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
Dear Crucial Skills,
My husband and I have a communication problem…he doesn’t know how to use a phone. Really–he refuses to call me or answer my calls when his plans change. After work, he will indulge in a cocktail and become “involved in conversation” which leads him to “lose track of time.” This creates hostility between us–especially when I am depending on him to pick up our daughter or simply be home at a normal time. We have discussed this from both views–I ask how he would feel if he was depending on me to perform a specific task and I casually showed up some 4-12 hours late. (Yes, 12 hours–or more!)
The problem is that I feel I am taking second place or lower to what is most important to him. He answers calls from his friends/coworkers, but not from me. (I caught him talking on his cell IN THE SHOWER to them one day!!)
I am disturbed by his lack of respect and courtesy. He, of course, says he has a lot of respect for me, but I am not seeing any. Any suggestions??
Dear Hung Up,
As I receive questions like yours I am touched; the frustration and the desire to improve things are very clear. Based only on the facts you’ve provided, I offer the following advice that I hope you and others may find useful.
The first issue is finding the right conversation to hold. In your note, you clearly cover all three categories of possible conversations: Content, Pattern, and Relationship. “Content” is the immediate issue–failing to call, losing track of time, not picking up your daughter, or not coming home on time. “Pattern” is the recurrence of any of these a second or third time. “Relationship” deals with how this issue is affecting your trust and your feelings of being respected.
Any of these conversations is an option, but it seems that given the nature of the issues, “relationship” is the place to start . . . courtesy and respect.
Before you speak, you need to get your motives right by asking what you really want for your husband, for yourself, and for the relationship. When you really want to share and understand and help improve the relationship rather than badger, make him feel guilty, or vent, the conversation is more likely to be productive because your good intentions will be clear. You should also know what you’d like to see him commit to and what you’ll ask to make sure you get his perspective. Then you are ready to begin. Here’s how a script might go, with some annotation:
“I’d like to talk to you about how we are doing as a couple. Would that be okay?” (permission statement)
“I don’t want to either or us to argue or get defensive. I’d like to share what I see, and hear what you see, because I’d like our relationship to get better.” (A skill called “Contrasting”)
“During the last couple of weeks you have forgotten to pick up our daughter on two occasions, and you’ve come home several times after 6:30 when you said you’d be home shortly after 4:30. I’m beginning to feel that I can’t trust you to keep your word. It makes me feel like you don’t respect me. I don’t want to feel that way. Can we talk about this? How do you see it?” (“STATE”–another Crucial Conversations skill)
In this particular case, you should be ready to move to action by documenting who does what by when, and agreeing on how you’ll follow up. This may seem extreme in a marriage relationship, but increasing the odds of keeping commitments begins with clear expectations about specific behaviors both of you will work on. Clear expectations will ensure that both of you are working together to make progress.