Have you heard of the term “dining dead”? In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel asks “Are we like those bored couples you feel sorry for in restaurants?” Joel muses to himself. “Are we the dining dead?”
Can you save your marriage over dinner?
A recent New York Times article described this state as one in which a couple stops talking after many years of marriage finding themselves sitting across the table, wordless, with a vast distance between one another.
How does this happen?
So many couples are bursting with conversational energy when they first meet. There is much to discover; many evenings are spent talking into the wee hours. As time goes on the enthusiasm and excitement lessens and the day to day of life takes hold on conversations.
As you get to know one another you naturally have less to talk about. It’s not the years so much as it is a shift in the patterns of communication. In the beginning there is a earnest desire to know your partner intimately and deeply. To understand who they are, what makes them tick; to connect. As relationships and marriages evolve communication shifts towards building a future and for many couples that includes houses, families and careers. Days roll into years and before you know it the only conversations you are having are about when the plumber is coming and who’s able to attend the parent teacher conference next Tuesday.
So how can you save your marriage from the (dining) dead?
As the writer suggested in her column the key is to get talking again. For this couple the process began by identifying some ground rules…
No talking about the children.
Turn off cell phones and computers.
For many couples getting talking again means stepping into the potentially uncomfortable space of “what if we actually have nothing to talk about?”
This is where relationship skills can help. Learning to talk again means remembering this simple mantra: talk about yourself and ask about the other. After all isn’t so much of the conversation relationships are founded on about sharing yourself and discovering your partner.
So here are some ground rules to add…
Share stories, feelings, thoughts, ideas. Use I-statements.
Ask good questions (questions that start with how and what). What do you really want to know about your partner after all these years?
Listen skillfully. So often a conversation sounds more like two simultaneous monologues. When you listen skillfully a conversation becomes more intimately connected.
Most of all, just talk.
Embark on your return from the dining dead.
Maybe you really can save your marriage over dinner.