They sit at the kitchen table, staring off and away, the eyes of each avoiding the other’s, hurting, hoping other words, somehow, might replace those that can never be unsaid. They small-syllable their way around the echoes of their argument, waiting for the other to risk or even get up and walk away. A sugar spoon becomes a landscape to explore with nervous fingers while hoping for the moment to shed its sharpness with even a hint of healing – or some faint twitch of forgiving.

Both think but dare not utter words they want to speak, words to seed the torn-up earth of what both once called love with even tentative life. But only the silence whispers their fear of adding to their hurtings. An unfocused eye brims a tear that does not fall; a rasp in a throat that wants to say anything that sounds like “Sorry …”  Their one hope being both are still there, waiting …

                  *   *   *   *   *  

A familiar scenario for many relationships. Perfect love is meant for a life other than this one. Arguments, misunderstandings, cruel words find no place on top of wedding cakes. Still, they lurk in the reality of being human and the pressures (and even pleasures) of daily living. So, what to do in such situations?

There are three helpful steps couples can take. 

The first is a simple statement of need from either party. “We need to talk … but this may not be the time to do so,” or “How can we move on from this place?” or “I need some space and time to think.”  Something to defuse the situation, to shatter the silence in a neutral or positive way. 

The second step, once they find time to revisit that hurting place, is to take responsibility for their separate selves by avoiding any “you” messages. Begin with an apology, then “Here’s what I heard,” “Here’s what I’m feeling,” “How can I help (What can I do) to make things right?” “We’s” are okay; but “I’s” are most times better heard, is difficult to speak.

The third step is even more difficult: Listen – with eyes as well as ears. It’s called presence. Let the other know what you hear by “playing back” their comments before responding. It will seem clumsy at first but when the other feels clearly heard, good things happen.

There may be other steps to take, but these three are practical and proven, though not guaranteed, “quick fixes.” Still, they can help to meet any test. Any relationship dealing with differences large or small may never eliminate them, but there is always the hope and possibility of learning how to deal and live with them.