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Communication Games by Rachel Hott, PhD

For many years I have been following John Gottman’s work on couples communication. One of my clients recently said, “Oh he’s your guru.” This may be true. I find that Gottman’s books, The Relationship Cure, 7 Principles of Making a Marriage Work and What Makes Love Last, to all have been helpful in my personal and professional life.

So it was a delightful surprise when I discovered that my 90 year old mother had received a board game for her birthday and it was a Gottman board game. The game is called Couples Retreat. My mother, an Advanced Practice Nurse/Psychoanalyst/Sex Therapist, has studied with the Gottman institute so it was no surprise that she would receive such a thoughtful gift.

What was a surprise was the pleasurable experience of playing the game with her. Of course the game is designed for couples, particularly intimate couples, so we made our own modifications. What I found most endearing was that my mom would never play Bingo, but she loved rolling the die, and landing on the cards, which could be anything from describe your early dreams, to what relative made a positive impact in your life to what side of the bed do you sleep on. Of course the cards about intimacy, called Salsa, were not appropriate for us, but since she is a sex therapist, we read those out of curiosity.

The game promotes deepening your relationship, getting to know each other, discovering shared values and information. It also came with a booklet that helps couples deal with “regrettable instances.” (I love that phrase.)

Here are the lessons from the booklet. When you experience a regrettable situation use the “I,” pronoun and express your feelings. As a listener validate your partner’s experience. Remember that validation does not have to be agreeing but does demand that you understand. Both of you can share your perceptions without blaming each other. As you share your feelings, identify the triggers that may have more to do with a past experience (typically related to your family of origin), at this point you can once again validate and then move towards each of you accepting responsibility for your part in the “regrettable incident.” (Remember both of you are right). Lastly begin planning for the future, by discussing what you both agree to do the next time if something similar occurs.

Let me know if you find these communication guidelines as helpful as I do. In the meantime have fun playing a game, any game, even Bingo.

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