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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. 

Tip #3 to Constructive Couples Communication: Yes,and!

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

In the world of Improvisational Acting, one of the rules is to keep the action moving forward, so not blocking a person’s story is key to success.  Improv actors do this by saying in response to whatever their partner says, “Yes, [that’s true! you’re right!] and….” 


Now, I have to admit that I have a reputation for borrowing trouble before it comes.  That means when someone brings up a new idea, I have been known to immediately look for what might go wrong with that plan.  I especially like the "Yes, and" tip because it focuses me on the positive.  

Listen to how a couple might use this technique to build up a warm connection between them.  Bob introduces a new topic and before jumping to why it won't work, Barbara makes an effort to agree with even one little part of it:

Bob: I really want to go to vacation in Hawaii so we can just hang out under an umbrella.
Barbara: YES, and we can drink piña coladas with little umbrellas in them.  Those are so festive!
Bob: YES, and I read a review of a restaurant right by the water that has festive colored lights.
Barbara:  YES, and I could finally try the Mahi Mahi now that I am eating fish.
Bob: Right! and I hear Hawaii has some of the most creative deserts ever.
Barbara: Oh! You know how I love deserts AND we could walk on the beach after dinner.
Bob: That’s sounds really nice.  I love the sound of the waves. 

Now, let’s assume in the above conversation that Barbara really doesn’t want to go to Hawaii.  She knows how expensive it is and is worried that such a trip will badly eat into their savings.  Going to Hawaii just to make Bob happy truly will not serve the family in the long run.  For one, Barbara is likely to get tense and tight lipped about every expense on the trip thereby ruining Bob’s pleasure and for two, the family might really need that money later if the cost of a Hawaii trip takes from their emergency fund.  

This is where the variation of “Yes, and” comes into play.  

By using “Yes, and” Barbara has allowed herself to imagine what she might enjoy about Hawaii and has built up a lot of warm feeling between Bob and her.  Now it is time to introduce her concerns.  Let’s see how this goes:

Barbara:  I love the waves, too, and AT THE SAME TIME I am worried that Hawaii will be too expensive.
Bob:  Yes, that’s true, and AT THE SAME TIME, we saved by not going away at Christmas.
Barbara:  I’m glad we’ve got some extra put away, and AT THE SAME TIME, I wonder if we could find some place relaxing that is closer to home.  I’d like to avoid the cost of a big plane flight.
Bob:  Yeah, I checked prices and it will be peak season, and AT THE SAME TIME I just get so much benefit from being near the water, it is worth it to me.

Bob and Barbara are getting close to being able to move into the brainstorming phase to find a win-win solution.  Notice that now when Barbara brings up the issue of cost, Bob slips in that he has considered cost:  He already checked the price of tickets, so it is not that he is insensitive to their budget.  His last statement also reveals how is being near the water that provides so much benefit to him.  This would be great place for them to begin generate alternative ideas that meet Bob’s need to relax near the water and Barbara’s need to not go over budget:  Tahoe? Santa Cruz? Lake Shasta?  It is easy to imagine that this warm, lively conversation will continue to move along toward a solution that works for them both.  They will end up with a good plan, but more importantly, the process of coming up with that plan will leave them feeling more loving and connected.  Talk about win win! 

Remember, communication is constructive when it keeps moving in a generally positive direction.  In his research on happy marriages, John Gottman found that couples need five positive interactions for every negative interaction in order to stay close.  What I love about Yes, and is that it builds up a lot of good will.

Now, I know some of you sceptics are thinking, no way!  

Even if I use "Yes, and" or "Yes, and at the same time," my partner will never use it in response.  Well, it's true.  If you don't teach the technique to your spouse, it might be harder to keep the flow going, but remember, in this case it is your partner who is excited about the topic, so that should make it easy.  Why wouldn't he want he be delighted you are not blocking him?

What about when you introduce "And at the same time," and your partner still shuts you down? Then you go back to "Yes, and."  Imagine that Barbara says, "I love the waves, too, and AT THE SAME TIME I am worried that Hawaii will be too expensive."  If Bob answers, "You worry too much!", Barbara needs to go back to agreeing with that before adding her "And and the same time."

Barbara:  That's true! I do worry a lot, and at the same time I want to make sure that we are free from worry on the trip.

Bob:  You don't need to worry. The trip will be great!

Barbara:  Yes, being near the water is great, and at the same time, the flights are bound to be really expensive.

Bob:  I don't want you to worry about the cost of things.  

Barbara: Right! I do love how you make all the arrangements, and at the same time, I wonder if we might find a nice place near the water that we could drive to?  

Do you see how tenaciously Barbara is holding onto her concern AND AT THE SAME TIME continues to acknowledge anything she can agree with by Bob.  Hanging on to positive while making sure that your needs get addressed (if not met) is not easy, but the payoffs are great.  

I can hear some of you grumbling, Why do I have to be the one to do the hard work? What about my partner?  Believe me, I get how you feel.  Sometimes I just want someone to agree with me, too.  I'd like to feel that I am not carrying the burden of communication by myself.  However, the beauty of all three tips--active listening, I-Statements and Yes, and/Yes, and at the same time--is that even if only one person uses them, an enormous shift occurs in the relationship.  That is how powerful they are!  

If you wait until your partner is ready to learn them, too, you may wait too long:  There may be no relationship left to transform.  And here's the cold hard truth:  Even if you don't love your spouse anymore, you will always be co-parenting together.  Using these techniques will absolutely improve your communication--and that can only be good for your kids.  

I am such a believer in constructive communication and want so dearly for you to experience the joy that effective communication can bring to a relationship that if you commit to getting coached on using these techniques and others for at least 10 sessions, I will give you a 30% discount off the regular price.  Wow!  That's a big savings!  If after three sessions you are not perfectly satisfied, I'll refund you 100%. Get started by signing up HERE for a free 20-minute consult.  

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