While in a jovial mood at last month’s carnival party, I agreed to my Polish friend’s invitation to dinner in a French restaurant five minutes on foot from my residence.
After some minutes of tiptoeing on the snow, my husband and I were ushered to a table in the middle of a room directly in front of a flat stage with standing microphone and sound system. All tables had only two chairs, and we were discouraged from mingling with other couples, including my Polish friends.
On the table was a beautifully cut-out paper in a shape of a turbine with a dozen questions, such as “What’s the best moment you had with your partner recently” and “What do you like most in your partner these days?”
During the appetiser, our conversation focused on the unusualness of the evening. There was a short show about relationships, which was really an introduction to the instructions and information on what’s going to happen next. We were given a piece of paper sealed by a small heart with topics for discussions, which ranged from needs to values. My husband and I started with honesty; then, we branched out into children and movies, which we weren’t supposed to do. It was meant to be a “tête-à-tête ». Thirty minutes later, they distributed to every couple a folded A4 paper that had 2 different pictures to be described to each other.
The main event of the evening was the discussion of what the organisers entitled the “L’ABECEDAIRE de la Communication du couple qui dure» (The ABC of a couple/relationship that lasts): attentes, besoin, comprehension, differences, ecouter, ferme, gentillesse, honnetete, intentions, jugements, klaxon, lien, moment, negocier, opportunity, pensees, questions, rire, silence, temoigner, utile, valuer, winchester, X, yeux, and zenith.
When translated into English, the above doesn’t follow the ABC flow; however, the message stays remain and true:
« Attentes » – expectations. Tell your partner your expectations rather than waiting for him/her to guess these.
Besoin – need. Ask questions about your partner’s needs.
Comprehension – understanding. Understand your partner and ensure that she/he knows that you understand him/her or what s/he goes through.
Differences – differences. Face the issues of differences in your relationship with empathy rather than find faults.
Ecouter – listen. Listen and not just hear his/her views and do this with patience and empathy.
Ferme – firm. Be firm yet respectful about the issues that are important to you.
Gentillesse – kindness. Whatever your disagreement, don’t be angry and defensive but appreciate your differences.
Honnetete – honesty. Be honest when you talk about your desires and feelings rather than accusing the other of ill communication.
Intentions – intentions. Don’t entertain negative intentions. Always ask if you’ve understood it well rather than assume the intentions of your partner.
Jugements – judgements. Accept that the other person sees things differently from you to avoid judging his/her opinions, needs and sentiments.
Klaxon ‘Tu, Tu, Tu’- horn (You, You, You). Avoid this sentence structure: You’ve to…, You need to…YOU…
Lien – bond. Maintain a strong bond by always telling your partner that s/he is important to you and your relationship even in the midst of quarrels.
Moment – moment.Prefer to talk about your feelings and thoughts of the present than the past and the future.
Negocier – negotiate. Negotiate that leads to a win-win situation, i.e. it incorporates both needs, which might mean compromising.
Opportunite – opportunity. Relationships are full of ups and downs. Choose an appropriate moment to talk about problems, i.e. when none of you is upset or annoyed, which may mean making an appointment.
Pensees – thoughts. When you want to express your negative thoughts, think seven times before saying these.
Questions – questions. Answer directly to questions pose by your partner.
Rire – laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine”. Laugh at the weaknesses of your partner rather than dramatise or exaggerate these. Laughing together is staying together.
Silence – silence. Don’t let silence be a usual or permanent part of your relationship.
Temoigner – witness. Express verbal appreciation when your partner does something for you. Go for compromise or/and understanding of your differences, and be a constant testimony of this.
Utile – useful. Be certain about what you want to/have or want to say and be useful in finding solutions to the conflict or disagreement.
Valeur – value. Avoid devaluing the personality of your partner and comment on the result of the action rather than his/her value.
Winchester – Winchester (a large cylindrical bottle for holding liquid). Avoid a Winchester of accusations and blames as these block communication.
X – x (Native English speakers use ‘X’ at the end of a message to represent a kiss). Be generous with hugs and kisses even in times of disagreement.
Yeux – eyes. Look at the person in the eyes to show your genuine interest and attention.
Zenith – zenith (the highest point). The sun isn’t always at the zenith, as with your relationship. Accept that there are different seasons and moments in any relationship, but what’s constant is never abandon the willingness to communicate to each other.
Communication and compromise are needed in all relationships, not just in romantic or intimate ones.
All types of relationship cannot grow without communication, which is a skill (and not just knowledge) that can be learned (also correct ‘learnt’). Like all skills, we’ve to work at it, and let’s start with the ABC of a lasting relationship.