Below is an example conversation Bill might have with JoAnn. Note that when requesting the conversation, we use the term mindful dialogue to distinguish it from normal conversation. Using the phrase mindful dialogue, or something similar, is a tip-off to your partner that a special kind of discussion is wanted. Because the mindful dialogue has a precise and predictable format, it’s very safe.
If you’re upset, you might ask for a mindful dialogue as a safe way for me to say whatever you need to say. Likewise, if Bill notices that JoAnn is upset, he might offer that theyhave a mindful dialogue as a safe way for her to communicate. Other code words or phrases you might use are “Can you just get something for me?” or “I really need you to hear me about something.” The phrase you use is not important, as long as you’re communicating that you’d like to create a safe environment for the two of you to talk.
Step 1: Permission
Bill: Darling, I’d like to have a mindful dialogue. Can you take a few minutes right now?
JoAnn: Yes, dear.
Step 2: Communication and Reflecting Back
Bill: I feel like I can never win in helping you cook for Thanksgiving.
JoAnn: You feel like you can’t win helping me cook for Thanksgiving?
Bill: Right. No matter how helpful I try to be, it seems I’m always in your way.
JoAnn: You feel like you’re always in my way. Got it.
Bill: Yes, and it reminds me of when I tried to be helpful with my parents on Thanksgiving, and no matter what I did, I just seemed to always anger my stepmother.
JoAnn: So my getting angry with you reminds you of your stepmother getting angry?
JoAnn: Anything else?
Bill: Yes. Of course it’s different, because you really do appreciate me. I know you just get into frenzy mode with the amazing meal you pull together. And I know that when the frenzy is over, you’re going to acknowledge me like crazy and tell me how much you love me, but in the moment, I get upset.
JoAnn: You know I appreciate you. You know I just get in a frenzy. And you just get hooked about Thanksgivings with your parents when I get angry with you in the moment.
Bill: Yes, that’s it.
JoAnn: I hear you, darling. Anything else?
Bill: No, that’s all.
Step 3: Recap
JoAnn: So let me make sure I got all of this. You feel like you can never win during Thanksgiving, you feel like you’re always in my way, and it reminds you of Thanksgivings of yore when your stepmother would yell at you. Did I get everything?
Bill: Also, that I know that you really do appreciate me.
JoAnn: Right. Got it. Anything else?
Bill: No, that’s all.
Step 4: Appreciating
JoAnn: Well, given your upbringing, I can see why you’d feel that way. It must be especially hard for you during the holidays, which I know is a stressful time for you anyway, to have me get all pissy when you’re just trying to help.
Step 5: Gratitude
Bill: Thank you, darling, for really hearing me.
JoAnn: You’re welcome. Thanks for communicating with me and having me be your full partner.