Naked Communication, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Naked Communication


June 15, 2010

Communicating well is difficult enough on its own. Throw in a busy schedule and three young children and it is amazing it happens at all.

It will often happen that Stacey and I have a disagreement or a difference of opinions on a matter and we’ll begin to talk it out. This “talk it out” phase can take place at any given time during the day: making dinner or cleaning up after it, making lunches, driving in the car, taking a shower, checking homework. Rarely does it happen that all three children are asleep or occupied and Stacey and I can pour a cup of tea and sit at the table to talk about our differences. It usually happens in the middle of something, and often at the worst possible moment.

The result is a very fragmented conversation.

For example, this morning, as we were getting ready to go to Sunday Mass, Stacey and our oldest child were having a disagreement while Stacey was getting ready for the day in the bathroom. I could see it coming, and removed him from the situation in the middle of the conflict.

She indicated to me that she was very hurt and frustrated. I had effectively usurped her parenthood at that moment—preventing her from seeing her conflict through. I was frustrated that the conflict had happened in the first place when I could see it coming and tried to prevent it. In that moment, we were broken—we were not in the same relational space. We were in two different worlds.

Well, the day had to progress—kids were ready for Mass and Father John was not going to wait for us to have a conversation before starting the opening procession. We both had to take showers, so while the kids were wrestling downstairs, we found ourselves having a conversation about parenthood standing in the bathroom, both stark naked.

Talk about being honest with one another.

In our best moments, we seize what time and space we can to be able to get on the same page with one another. Sometimes, that means telling our children that they’ll have to find some way to keep busy until we’re done. Often, it means being able to talk and work at the same time.

At our worst, we get impatient, overwhelmed, and crabby with each other and with the kids. At our best, we both commit to communicating honestly with one another, knowing that we’ll get to the other side of it if we both dive in and make an effort to see things form the other’s perspective.

Once in a while, we’ll both see that we don’t have the time and space to get through an issue, and we’ll identify a time later in that same day when we will be able to talk it through. This is a good approach, as it gives us space to think through what happened and why. When we come back together, we are usually more level-headed.

So this morning, standing naked with one another in a small bathroom, we talked it out. We heard each other out, and got to the heart of the matter quickly. I was able to apologize to Stacey for stepping into her conflict in a troublesome way, and she was quick to accept my apology and move on. While we were getting dressed, she kissed me and we went to Mass in a much better mood.

There are Sunday mornings when the sign of peace carries more meaning than others.

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Restorative Niche Activities

Restorative Niche Activities

Winter is just sitting on top of us like a mean big brother who does not really care how “un-fun” the game has become. He is bigger than us and we just have to deal with it. I am an only child, so this is an entirely made-up scenario – but it seems plausible.

It is hard to wake up each day to another dark, cold morning, get children to school on slick roads or through snow, then off to work, only to pick up children, hope to get home before dark, make supper, do homework, bedtime routine, and then repeat. Granted, this is more or less what 75% of the year looks like, but somehow it is harder in February and March. As parents we can just feel devoid of energy and inspiration—empty.

That emptiness makes it very hard to be at out best for our children and our spouses.

We often tell ministry students, “You can’t minister from an empty cup,” meaning you have to attend to taking care of yourself and then minister from your overflow. Otherwise you are working from a deficit that will never be replaced (Bernard of Clairvaux).

In marriage and family life we do not always get the opportunity to fully attend to ourselves—to fill our cups. We rarely have the time and energy to exercise as much or even when we might want to; to pray as much, when, or even in the manner we might feel called; or to meet up with friends, go on retreat, or travel. We don’t even get to dictate our own sleep patterns!

One of the ways Joshua and I have begun to help one another in this regard is to carve out space for “restorative niche activities.” This is a phrase used by Matt Bloom, a sociologist whose research helps ministers flourish in ministry. It describes activities that meet two criteria: they are activities that we do well enough to pursue a sense of mastery; and they are activities that we do out of intrinsic motivation—simply for the joy we experience in the activity itself.

A variety of activities can be restorative, such as knitting, golf, painting, gardening, or model railroading. Bloom advises that for a restorative niche to really contribute to our flourishing, we need to engage in it regularly. Regularly, for him, means at least once a week.

Now if you are like me, one of the hardest parts of practicing restorative niche activities is just finding out what yours are. Josh’s is easy—baseball. He is part of an informal league that plays during summer, and he likes to make it to the batting cages when he can in the “off-season.”

I was happy to find an activity that suits the winter weather: ice-skating. I love playing on the ice. It is something that I do well enough that it is fun, and something that I would enjoy doing even better. When I am on the ice trying out new things, I totally lose track of time. That is one of the hallmarks of a true restorative niche—losing track of time.

This winter, Joshua has encouraged me to carve out a day or two each week to ice skate during the noon hour. It really is a lovely break from the day. It is refreshing in a way that has nothing to do with exercise and everything to do with clearing my mind and focusing on something for its own sake, not for a specific outcome.

The busy-ness of contemporary family life and its attendant stressors make it almost impossible not to be focused on goals and outcomes. We often need to plan our days out minute-by-minute so that everything fits. Our lives would be a mess without some sense of order and effort at planning and execution.

Restorative niche activities remind us how to play. How to just do something for its own sake and find ourselves in the fun of it. One of the ways Joshua and I support each other in marriage is by encouraging each other’s full flourishing. Just because the demands of parenting can easily become all-consuming does not mean that we should entirely lose our identity as individuals.

When we are whole in ourselves, when our “cups are full,” we are able to give not from a deficit but from our overflow. Such is the abundance of God’s love.


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