Thursday, July 30, 2009

Marriage Encounters - Part Two

Obviously part two follows on from part one, so if you haven't started reading from the begining, I'd suggest you do. It probably won't make sense otherwise.

I'll be posting this topic close together because I think that people lose interest when a series is too drawn out. I also want to post in a great deal of detail. The plan is for this series of posts to be something that others could use to build their own "marriage encounter" upon.

The second day of our encounter began quietly. It was a sunny day and we were served a very nice group breakfast. We all chatted together around our tables assuming that we'd probably be great friends by the time the whole encounter weekend was over. When breakfast was finished we helped a little with the cleaning and then went outside.

It was a little foggy but still nice and we noticed that a group of kangaroos had hopped onto the property. We took a quick look around but were soon called back into the workshops. We went willingly assuming that there would be plenty of time for bushwalking and kangaroo petting later - how wrong we were.

First Principles: Learning how to talk all over again.
The first part of our morning consisted of a tutorial on how to write a letter. They talked about the Dear.... part and how letters in general, and love letters specifically, ended with the words "Love From...".

After a while, I started to feel impatient. I was wondering if I was in an English class for adult foreign students. After all, there seemed to be multicultural mix at the event. Certainly, they weren't talking about marriage. They were talking about writing skills. For a while, I started to panic inwardly. I really, seriously thought we'd turned up for the wrong weekend.

Then, they moved onto adjectives. It was really starting to irritate me a bit. It was like first grade English at school. The group leaders started talking about how to describe things, telling us to imagine that our reader was blind.

They talked about walking in a garden on a summers day. About the colours of the flowers, the textures of the leaves. They told us how to describe the sun on our shoulders. No.. not simply to say that it was there but also... it was warm. They'd reply with "how warm?". The leaders told us to think of a scale of one to ten but then to convert it to words. One would be about room temperature, while ten would be like the inside of an oven.

Then, the asked us... "what is warm?". Describe the sensation of being warm to someone who doesn't know. A person who lived on a pacific island beach would have a very different idea of "warm" than an eskimo. We were taught to put our descriptions into language which left absolutely no room for a wrong interpretation.

It was frustrating because at the time we had no idea of what we were doing or why we were working at such a basic level.

They told us to assume that our reader hadn't been in the sun. That they lived underground. What was "warm?" what did it feel like. We were taught to liken it to the heat on a kettle. How it starts off cool but feels nice on the fingers.

It turned out that the group was preparing us for the communication differences between men and women. Men and women have vastly different ranges of feelings, so different in fact, that it becomes quite difficult for them to communicate on the same level. If you're thinking carefully about this, you may be starting to appreciate why this particular technique is so appropriate for people with aspergers.

An Exercise
Eventually, they stopped teaching and announced that it was time for us to do some real work. We were given exercise books and a pen and told to write our names on it. Then we were told to go off into separate locations. All the men had to go outside and all the women had to go to their rooms.

We were asked to think about our marriages and try to remember ONE day when had a good time. One day when we thought that both ourselves and our partners had really enjoyed the day.

It was also made clear that the event couldn't be the one we'd previously used to answer the "good day" question. Our wedding day was therefore out. I think they'd done that deliberately, knowing that most women would cite their wedding day as a highlight - and that for men, while the wedding day was nice, it really was "all about the woman", and therefore not exactly a "shared" day.

We had to write a love letter to our partner, with a proper beginning and ending (as taught). We had to thank our partner for the day and tell them what we had loved about the day and how we'd treasure the memory forever. More importantly though, we had to talk about how we felt on the day and how we felt remembering the day.

We weren't allowed to say "we felt happy". Every emotion had to be properly described and quantified. How happy? What do we mean by happy?

We were also warned. Nothing negative at all was to come into our letters. This was about love and memory - nothing else.

I will admit to feeling a little miffed. We were there because we had problems and yet, they weren't letting us talk about negative things. My wife and I may even have said something to the leaders (or someone else did). In any case, the leaders smiled and said... "oh, you'll be covering the bad things before the weekend is out, but first you need to learn how to listen".

We were not allowed to be anywhere near our partners while we were writing. I think that was so that we wouldn't glance at each other or irritate eachother.

Learning to Listen
After about 30 minutes, we were all sent to our rooms. We were told to swap papers with our partners and read silently - without looking at eachother while reading. Just concentrate on the reading, nothing else.

Then... they said, once you've read it. Read it again from the beginning - more slowly and more thoughtfully. Get every drop of knowledge and emotion out of it.

The group leaders warned us about pre-formulation. They said, there is a temptation to start formulating your responses while you read. At all costs, you must resist this. Instead of thinking about how you're going to respond, we want you to think about your partners words and descriptions. Try to understand the depth of their feelings. Try to feel it too.

Yes, that's right... they were teaching us empathy. Not how to show it... but true empathy. How to FEEL it.

We were told that once we'd done our reading, we were both to put our papers down and that we would discuss both. One first and then the other. We were not permitted to interrupt eachother and the first one to talk must be allowed to speak until they'd finished. Then the other partner could talk.

Above all, there was to be NO NEGATIVITY. We hadn't been "trained" for that yet, so we weren't to attempt it alone.

The rules were clear and strict. This, I think, is another reason why the technique is so applicable to aspies. Aspies love rules and follow them to the letter.

Reading and Revelation
I remember reading my wife's paper and remembering the happy event. It triggered a lot of happy memories of my own and as we discussed them, we started to remember why we had loved eachother.

For me, it was like hearing my wife's voice clear and untainted after years of screeching and croaking. My wife had never gotten like that and neither had I. We'd just stopped listening to eachother. We had started concentrating on the negatives in our life and started ignoring all the positives we'd had.

Our partners hadn't gone away. They hadn't emotionally died. They were still in there, calling out and at last, finding a voice again. It suddenly became a whole lot harder to justify the anger that we'd held against eachother. It didn't change the past but it did move us to a point where we could discuss it with love instead of negative emotions.

If you're thinking that this took up our whole weekend, you'd be mistaken. The leaders had managed to move the entire group to this point shortly before lunchtime on the Saturday.

When we broke up for lunch, we had little interest in talking to the other couples. We all just wanted to sit in the sun with our partners watching those kangaroos and talking about those happy times we'd had.


Maddy said...

Newbie visiting from Stuff with thing.

A wonderful positive post and timely reminder to me to get my priorities straight.
Best wishes

Rachel said...

What a great experience! Just beautiful.

A friend once told me that when his wife had passed away, all he could think of was her last illness, how cruel it was, and how he awful he felt that he hadn't been able to make her well. After a while, though, he said that all the pain faded away and he was just left with the happy, sustaining memories.

How wonderful that you could experience the happy, sustaining memories together, in the prime of your lives! To my mind, that's ideal.