by Anne Siegel, LCSW

Renewing the practice of meaningful conversation between spouses is one crucial element of marriage/couples therapy, and one of the first tasks to be taught, practiced and improved.

When a couple begins therapy, they are most often in a state of partial or total disconnection. The therapist often hears the disconnection described in various ways, such as: “We are more like roommates than husband and wife,” or “All we talk about is the logistics of getting the kids to their activities and getting dinner on the table,” or “We never really talk anymore. ”

For couples in this state, the first step is that they agree that reconnecting is a priority deserving both of their attention. Adjunct to that is the agreement to put aside any distractions (including phones, laptops and TV) for a given period daily. Twenty or 30 minutes should suffice and can be spent at the dinner table.

To give the couple a template to dive into a safe but serious conversation, here’s an exercise that certainly helps:

One spouse goes first, telling the other what their “Rose” of the day was. The rose is the best thing that happened, a favorite moment or something important that came to fruition. It could be something that just felt good. An example of a rose could be: “My boss approved my vacation request for spring break” or “I finished the quarterly reports today.” Then they describe why it was a rose — “Now we can make vacation plans far enough in advance to do something different this year. ”

Hearing what went right, and what is of importance to their partner creates a direct opening into what is meaningful in their spouse’s day and why. The partner then takes the opportunity to follow up on that subject — for example, the upcoming vacation.

The couple may decide that the other partner gives his/her rose then, or the first partner continues and talks about their “Rosebud.” The rosebud is what they are working toward or looking forward to happening. In the example above this could be: “I can’t wait to research rental condos for that week,” or something altogether different, such as “After this work week, my section will have completed all our certification paperwork.”

Again, this information is a direct line to what is important in the partner’s life. The partners can pursue talking about it and are, by design, having a conversation about something positive and meaningful to (at least one of) them.

Finally, the “Thorn” may or may not get time every day but should get airing at least every other day. The thorn is an activity, event, chore or situation that is dreaded or anxiety provoking or just hard and makes the partner uncomfortable. Hearing the vulnerability of the speaking partner gives a distinct opportunity to support each other and to empathize.

Couples can certainly try “The Rose, the Rosebud and the Thorn” at home without being in therapy. As a reminder, remember there should be no distractions (no cell phone or TV!). This is a time to really listen, truly hear and meaningfully communicate and connect.

Credit: Anne and Grant Bullard