Ramon Presson

This week my wife and I listened to and enjoyed this 25-minute podcast interview with couples therapist Kelley Gray.

Even though the title of the podcast interview is "The Enneagram and Marriage Part 1" (of a developing five-part series) this interview doesn't really cover the Enneagram; it’s really about becoming an expert on your partner versus seeking to become an expert on marriage.

The Limits of Books

I’m an avid reader and I devour articles and books on relationships. I’ve written extensively on marriage. I’m an advocate of singles and couples getting better educated about relationships. Books can teach you guiding principles about healthy relationships and effective communication and can offer you tips for having more satisfying sex and less conflict about finances and parenting. A book can help you understand some of the nuanced differences between men and women that are applicable to your partner.

But there's one thing that the best marriage articles and books cannot do for you: they cannot make you an expert on your partner. There is only one reliable source for that information...and you are seated beside him/her. 

I've been a marriage therapist since 1987. A lot of reading, research, and study has made me an expert on marital relationships. Counseling with several thousands of individuals and couples about their relationship has deepened my insights and furthered my expertise. Frankly, I probably understand women and what women want in a relationship better than 95% of men currently living on this planet. But none of that makes me an expert on the subject that matters most: Dorrie Presson.

Even after 35 years of marriage I'm still learning about her. And she is the teacher. She is the only resident expert available on her.  

In Titanic, the character Rose says, "A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets." Author Anne Dennish clarifies, "A woman's heart is indeed a deep ocean of secrets, but it is not secrets of lies or deception. It's secrets of emotion and longing, of wanting and yearning, of love and of pain. It's secrets of protection and secrets of loyalty; it's secrets that protect the ones she loves and secrets that break her heart."

Ten Great Questions

In the closing minutes of the interview Kelley offers 10 questions to help you know and understand your partner better: 

  1. What does your partner wake up dwelling on?
  2. How does your partner experience their emotions? (For example, is your partner free flowing with their emotions, or uncertain and/or uncomfortable with their emotions, or repressed with their emotions?)
  3. Which of society's ills bothers your partner the most?
  4. What is their greatest unmet need? Or their Top 3 unmet needs?
  5. What would be their best day ever? What would it include if they could orchestrate it?
  6. Under stress, does your partner cling, withdraw, or fight?
  7. What do you do that hurts your partner the most?
  8. What are your partner's 3 biggest dreams and what holds them back from pursuing those dreams?
  9. What are your partner's greatest fears?
  10. What is the most effective way of soothing your partner when they are upset (sad, anxious, or angry)? 

Self-Reflection and Sharing

As Dorrie and I heard the questions, we agreed that not only did we not know how to answer some of the questions for each other, we didn't know some of the answers for ourselves! So, the first step Dorrie and I are taking is thinking through and writing down our own answers to those ten questions, and then we're going to sit down and share our responses. 

By the way, we are not going to try to cover all 10 questions in one sitting or even two. 

I find that for us (and for most couples) about 30 minutes (plus or minus 5 minutes) is about the max for optimal attention and productivity for a deep conversation like this. And by the way, just because you can go deep and talk for hours about things like this, it doesn't mean your partner can or should. 

And during the discussion, do not critique or correct your partner's answers. You don't have to like or agree with all their answers, but it's their answer, their experience, their dreams and fears, their feelings and needs. Nothing shuts down personal sharing like telling someone they're wrong (for example: pointing out a detail you think is inaccurate, correcting a memory, critiquing a feeling, dismissing a fear, becoming defensive in response to an expressed need or hurt, criticizing an idea or dream, etc.)

It's not required that you agree with and approve of everything your partner shares. But you can and should listen and seek to accept their feelings as theirs. Remember that Acceptance doesn't inherently mean Agreement and Approval. And by no means am I suggesting that you sit there and absorb verbal abuse. Otherwise, when you don't understand or agree with something your partner says, first be curious instead of being immediately judgmental.  Be curious, not judgmental. That's the enduring line of one of the greatest scenes in modern television. Enjoy it and hold onto the lesson. 

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage & family therapist in Franklin,  (www.ramonpressontherapy.com)  the author of multiple books, and a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He can be reached at [email protected].