Do you wish that you had better rapport with your spouse? Are you at a loss for what to do to increase communication and emotional intimacy?
Recently, Christian Godefroy published a story titled “The Dancing Cow” in a newsletter I receive. When I read the story, I immediately thought of how the main point applies to married couples.
Here’s the story:
Michal and Kental started arguing as to which of them wrote the better music.
“My music is better,” Michal said. “My melodies bring tears to the eyes of all women.”
“No, my music is better,” Kental disagreed. “My scores are more enchanting than anything! Your music couldn’t move a cow, my poor Michal.”
“And what do you think? That your scores would make it dance?”
The dispute was in full swing when a peasant passed by, leading his cow back home from the field. The two musicians saw an opportunity to put their theories to the test.
“Hello there,” they said. “Would you mind if we played something for your cow?”
“Well, if it gives you pleasure, why not? She’s seen a lot worse in her day, I can tell you.”
Michal warmed his hands, tuned his balalaika (a stringed instrument of Russian origin) and played the most beautiful melody ever heard by a cow. But without
result – the beast ruminated without moving an ear.
Vexed, Michal passed the instrument to his compatriot, who played a lively score with the same result – no reaction from the cow.
“It’s a lost cause,” Michal cried. “Your cow does not have a musical ear.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” the peasant replied. “If you would lend me your instrument for a moment, I could play something for her.”
Intrigued, Michal and Kental handed over the balalaika. The peasant did his best to imitate the humming of the flies and the mooing of little cows. The cow lifted her ears, started whipping her tail from side to side, and walked closer to the peasant as if to hear the music better.
The main point of the story according to Godefrey is that “if you have trouble communicating with people, it may be that, like Michal and Kental, you are not playing the music they are used to hearing.” This is really profound wisdom!
In other words, you have to start where the other person is, using that person’s frame of reference. You can’t start where you are if the other person isn’t in the same place and doesn’t have the same background and experience. First, you have to enter the other person’s world and start with what’s familiar to him (or her) to get his attention.
In the story, perhaps in time the cow could have learned to respond to other music besides the sounds the peasant played at first. But initially, the cow showed no reaction whatsoever until the peasant played the sounds that the cow could relate to and was familiar with–the humming of flies and the mooing of little cows.
So the beginning point for getting the cow’s attention and involvement was to start making the sounds the cow was most familiar with. The cow could relate to those sounds and responded with attention and movement.
Are you wondering how this applies to building better rapport with your spouse? Here’s all you have to remember to apply the moral of the dancing cow story: To begin building better communication and rapport with your spouse, start in his (or her) world first–enter his world and start where he is right now.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Temporarily downplay your own needs and what you want from your spouse. Initiate conversations where you ask your spouse about his (or her) day, his work, and his activities, showing interest and empathy.
For example, you may say, “It must be frustrating to have a boss who changes his mind so much” or “You must have been disappointed when it rained and you couldn’t take your usual jog after work today.” See if he will open up and talk about his frustrations, disappointments, and dreams.
2. Make a concerted effort to understand your spouse’s mindset and feelings about the things that happen in her (or his) world. If she holds differing opinions, try to understand why and how they are different. Pretend you’re on a debate team and need to understand her viewpoint to be able to present it to others and to defend it.
If her tastes in music are different from yours, for example, be open to learning more about why she enjoys the music she does. Look for any common denominators between your taste and hers that you can build on.
Even if you never change your mind about your likes and dislikes, your spouse will appreciate the fact that you were motivated enough to want to understand her world better.
3. Go out of your way to show that you care about your spouse and that you appreciate him (or her). Most spouses take the partner for granted in many ways and stop expressing appreciation and saying “Thank you.”
Go out of your way to notice the large and small things that your partner does that you appreciate. Say a verbal “Thank you” or buy a special card and express your feelings in writing. Sincere appreciation can foster rapport.
4. When you’re talking to your spouse, try to match your breathing and speaking rates to his (or hers). It’s harder to build rapport when your spouse is laid-back and relaxed at the moment and you’re agitated and upset.
Without being obvious and making it look like you’re mimicking your partner, slow down and adjust your breathing rate to more closely match that of your partner’s. Align your rate of speech to match his and try to get in sync with his energy at the moment.
You might also try sitting or standing in the same position your spouse is, without making it obvious that you’re copying his behavior. In addition, you can align your facial expression and gestures with his.
Many good communicators do these things unconsciously because they help to build rapport and offer a good starting point for better communication. The key to doing this successfully is to start where your spouse is at the moment in terms of energy level and emotions.
5. Slowly encourage your partner to expand his (or her) world. For example, after listening to your spouse’s description of what happened at work, if he doesn’t ask about your day, summarize what happened in two or three short sentences before ending the conversation.
If your spouse spends every evening in front of the television set, ask her (or him) to select five minutes when the television can be turned off and you can take a “snuggle break.” Start small and build up to longer amounts of time.
Offer to give your spouse a foot, shoulder, or back massage. Really put yourself into the experience as you ease away your partner’s cares of the day with your healing touch. Let your partner know how much you enjoy being able to do this for her (or him) and see if she offers to reciprocate either then or later.
You’ll be more likely to succeed in building rapport if your partner feels that you’re sincerely interested in what happens to him (or her), that you appreciate him, that you care about him, that you value him, and that you want to spend time with him.
If what you’re doing isn’t working, remember the story of the dancing cow and change the “tune” you’re playing. Instead of trying to begin where you want things to be, start in your partner’s frame of reference and slowly move in the direction you want to eventually go.