Co-authors of thirty books
Co-founder and co-director, Center for Relationship
Les is a professor of clinical psychology at Seattle
Leslie is a marriage and family therapist at Seattle
Newspaper/Magazine contributions: :USA Today,
New York Times, L.A. Times, Chicago
Tribune, Women’s Day, Family
Circle, Brides, Men’s Health,
Marriage Partnership, Psychology Today
Television appearances: Oprah Winfrey Show,
Good Morning America, CNN Today,
Home & Family Show, Fox News Channel
for Relationship Development
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle, WA 98119
www.realrelationships.com to take the Love Talk
Indicator, or purchase the Love Talk book and get the
Love Talk Indicator as a bonus!
Marital Misunderstandings? Take
it to the 'Love' Doctors
By Laura J. Bagby
I used to quip to my friends in my best Louisiana Cajun-style
accent, "Communica-tion is the solu-tion to the situa-tion,"
punctuating each word for emphasis. I mostly said it just to get
a laugh or, at least, a good eye-roll.
All kidding aside, the concept is true, especially in our most
intimate interpersonal relationships, like good friendships or
long-lasting and happy marriages. And what better time than now
to brush up on those skills?
But knowing that communication is key and truly doing it -- now
that is the rub... and the reason for the plethora of advice on
Even couples who have been married for years still find themselves
struggling to understand themselves and their spouses.
Take Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, for example. Les is a professor
of clinical psychology, while Leslie is a marriage and family
therapist. Between the two of them, they have years of experience
and a wide base of knowledge as relationship experts. Plus, they
have twenty years of wisdom as a married couple. Yet Les and Leslie
admit that they, too, struggled to understand each other.
"Even though we knew all of the techniques and the bells
and whistles, we still couldn't make it work in our own marriage,
and we experienced that with other couples," notes Leslie.
"We were really on a quest to crack the code for what it
takes to have that amazing connection in marriage through communication."
That's when they decided to write their current book, Love
Talk: Speak Each Other's Language Like You Never Have Before (Zondervan,
2004). In it, the Parrotts note the importance of understanding
your and your spouse's emotional safety needs, or what they also
term personal fear factors. (Don't worry: There is nothing in
here about facing heights or eating worms. Leave that to reality
There are four emotional safety needs, and each person will usually
fall into one of these categories, the Parrotts explain. The first
need is gaining control of your time. Those who are most
influenced by this concept consider time precious, hate wasting
time. They often have an urgency about life and the decisions
they make. A second emotional safety need is winning approval
from others. Those with high approval needs fear doing or
saying something that might offend. Instead of operating on facts,
they operate based on feelings and can get their feelings hurt
easily. The third safety need is maintaining loyalty. Those
strong in this category believe that if you say that you are going
to be there, that you will be there. They concentrate on commitment,
consistency, and the stability of bonds that aren't to be broken.
Devotion and predictability are highly valued. The fourth and
final need is achieving quality standards. Those who
believe in quality want to see things done right and done in the
correct way. They play by the rule book and read the instruction
manual and fear overlooking something vital. They make decisions
cautiously and conservatively and are not as concerned about what
other people think.
What authors Les and Leslie realized after researching for their
Love Talk book was that they, as in the case of so many
couples, had opposing safety needs. Les' main safety need is time.
Wanting to be productive, Les tends to press on in conversations
with Leslie, often moving forward to make a quick decision, while
Leslie, whose main need is for approval, wants to check with everyone
else first before making a final decision. While Les is an aggressive
problem-solver, Leslie is a passive problem-solver. While Les
is facts-oriented, Leslie is feelings-oriented. He is more apt
to accept change; she is more loyal and slower to change. He is
spontaneous; she is cautious. Without a strong understanding of
the emotional safety needs, friction is the likely result, as
"I come off in our conversations like a jerk sometimes,"
he says, putting it bluntly. "I come off as abrupt and abrasive.
With her need for approval, how is she [Leslie] reading that?
She is taking it personally. I think that happens in a lot of
If emotional safety needs are a root of marital conflict, how
can couples go about discovering where they stand so that they
can truly understand their partner and thus reduce marital strain?
As Les says, "You can't sit in an armchair and think up
your answer," so the Parrotts have created the Love Talk
Indicator, an instrument that is taken online at www.realrelationships.com.
It's a 10-minute test that asks four questions and gives results
on a continuum to indicate both your and your spouse's talk styles:
- How do you tackle problems? Do you tackle problems aggressively
- How do you influence each other? Do you influence with facts
- How do you react to change? Do you react to change with resistance
- How do you make decisions? Do you make decisions cautiously
By seeing individual talk styles and the combined spousal talk
styles, couples will be able to gauge the challenges in their
communication style, to discover how best to influence their significant
other, and to understand their own individual reactions to stress.
Those who fear making themselves vulnerable to attack or manipulation
by taking this assessment can put their fears to rest. The intent
is never to make the one feel good and the other feel bad or to
force either individual to change.
"You don't have to be different than who you are,"
says Les. "Be who God designed you to be. You don't need
to change. You don't need to be a different problem-solver. That
is how you are hardwired. The point is to understand yourself
-- that will explain why you do the things you do and how you
come off to your partner -- and to understand your partner. If
you both have that going back and forth, then you begin to speak
Once those safety needs are recognized, and couples can empathize
with each other, they can each create a safe environment for their
spouse to communicate. As a bonus, even if only one spouse applies
this information to their marriage, marital satisfaction will
be positively altered.
"Think of a relationship like a mobile that hangs from the
ceiling and is sitting there in perfect rest," says Les.
"What happens when you take one little piece of it and move
it? The whole thing swings wildly until it finds its new resting
place. The same thing happens in a relationship. If one person
begins to bring a new dynamic into it, and to understand that
person's safety need, all of a sudden, the relationship gets out
of whack for a little while until that person realizes, oh, this
is how we are relating. More often than not, the person who wasn't
motivated at the beginning comes alongside and wants to understand,
There are times, the Parrotts are quick to point out, that silence
is golden, meaning it is better not to have a conversation, not
to talk about it.
As Les humorously points out, "This is probably one of the
few communication books that tells you to stop talking. We have
got a whole chapter on it!"
Often silence is needed, says Leslie, when couples find themselves
in the same predictable conversation or when either partner is
feeling particularly fragile. Creating space is optimal when things
Beyond determining what is wrong in your relationship, the Parrotts
also value finding out what is right. They term this 'talking
from your strengths.'
"Most of us don't take inventory of our strengths in our
relationship. We are always focused on the things that are irritating
to us. So we have an exercise that will help a couple highlight
what they do well and then affirm that. We sometimes call it the
'high-five experience,' " Les says.
So, what's the key to a great relationship? According to the
Parrotts latest research, it is to know yourself, to know your
partner, and to know the right time and the right way to communicate.
And with a little help from these relationship experts, you are
on your way to taking your marriage to a whole new level.
Check out their Web site www.realrelationships.com.
Purchase your copy of Love
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