Family Matters

What T.A.L.K. Stands For

Q Whenever I try to talk to my husband about something he does wrong, he's sullen and unresponsive. How can I do it without upsetting him?

A Presentation is everything. In our marriage we quickly learned that half the battle was not what we said, but how we said it. So we came up with four ideas — that we remember by the letters of the word TALK — to help us “speak the truth in love.”

T. Turn the pronoun around. If you say, “You always leave your underwear on the bathroom floor — I'm not your slave,” you've immediately put your spouse on the defensive. Instead focus the words on yourself and how you feel: “When you leave your underwear on the floor, it makes me feel like a maid.” It may seem like a subtle difference, but it frees your spouse to respond lovingly.

A. Accentuate the positive. “Thou shalt not nag” is a good house rule. Don't bring up a criticism until you've given your spouse at least two compliments that you really mean.

L. Leave out the absolutes. We're tempted to shout, “You're always in a grumpy mood! You never help me with the kids!” Always, never — these absolute statements also put your spouse on defense. (Besides, no one is always in the wrong!) Think of a specific way you'd like your spouse to help, and then say: “I'd really love it if you would play with the kids when I'm trying to get dinner ready.”

K. Keep to the subject. If you bring up an issue, it's not helpful to add things from the past — like the time he didn't tell you his buddies were coming over for the Super Bowl. If you've worked through a difficult issue in the past, leave it there.

When the waters get choppy in the McDonald house, it usually means we're not following these four steps.

Tom & Caroline McDonald are the co-directors of the family life office of the Archdiocese of Mobile.