As we’ve said in the book, the point of the preparation process is not to enforce rules that must be observed in every conversation, but to help couples communicate more successfully, especially when dealing with issues that may be more difficult. The principles and strategies we’ve outlined are but means to an end—and that end is the connectedness that couples say they want.
So if couples demonstrate that they have a way of making real connection happen, even in the face of difficult emotions, that’s good—and you can encourage them to use it!
One couple, for example, described to me in honest detail a common scenario. The husband gets annoyed or upset, but keeps his feelings to himself. The wife notices the difference in his demeanor and asks what’s wrong. When he doesn’t answer, she keeps pursuing him until he explodes with emotion. She feels hurt; he feels guilty.
Knowing this about themselves, however, the husband has taken to writing her emails while they’re apart at work. That allows him the space to consider what to say and how to say it, without the immediate face-to-face pressure of having to figure it out on the fly. And it allows both of them time to consider each other’s feelings and to respond calmly and appropriately. Later, when they come together, they feel more settled, understood, and connected.
Again, the point is that the strategy actually succeeds in helping this couple connect emotionally. (Be alert to nonverbal signs that a spouse may have unspoken reservations about the other spouse’s “solution,” and be ready to facilitate a conversation about that.) The husband can be affirmed for adjusting his behavior and finding a way to respond positively to his wife; more generally, you can reinforce the idea that positive connections like this are at the core of the marriage. The verbal skills you are teaching them can be framed not as requirements, but as adding to their repertoire, giving them additional skills that they will hopefully begin to use as needed, and as they grow in their sense of safety and trust with each other.