Talk time is a Thing We Do here at Chez Soques. Well, not lately… and by “lately” I mean “routinely lo this past decade.” But it’s a practice My Sweetie and I began when we were starting our lives together, and it’s made all the difference to us.
I’m going to tell you what it is first.
- Happens once every week: not more, not less.
- Is scheduled—routine—so that it is never a surprise, and it can be relied upon.
- Has both parties sitting near each other, and not opposite. Chairs (or sofas!) set at 90º is good.
- Means each party gets 15 minutes of uninterrupted speaking, about a topic or topics of that party’s choosing. The other person is mute during the 15-minute window. The speaking-window closes at 15 minutes whether the first party is ready or not.
- Timers are helpful.
- After the uninterrupted time, there can be 15 minutes of Q&A (and/or discussion) if desired or needed.
- After the first party’s cycle is complete, the second party’s cycle begins—and is run the same way.
(I’m relying on My Sweetie to correct me if anything’s missing.)
Why Talk Time Matters
Back when we were first a couple, I was in psychotherapy. I’d graduated to once-a-week sessions—hurray for stability!—but every Tuesday afternoon I’d spend an hour working on my mental health. My relational life was a large component of the work, unsurprisingly for someone in her early 20s. And Thea gave homework—therapy’s not much good if it doesn’t spill over into the rest of one’s (still poorly-functioning) life.
So many Tuesdays, as My Sweetie and I climbed in the car after a day of AMD work, I would burble, “Thea asked me today what you thought about <relationship issue XX>, and I didn’t know. What do you think?”
After a few months, My very patient Sweetie said, “I hate Tuesdays.”
I promptly carried this back to Thea. Who equally promptly said, “Well, I would too, if I were getting ambushed by heavy topics every Tuesday before dinner!
“Do you have to tackle these topics on Tuesdays?”
“Well, I guess not. But I don’t want to lose track of them! They’re fresh in my mind on Tuesday.”
“What if… you knew you would get a chance to talk about them, because it was scheduled?” I nodded. “Think about this: what if there are things Your Sweetie would like to talk about, but he never gets around to it in all the other talking you two do about your topics?”
I mused briefly: this seemed highly likely, given My Sweetie’s habits and predilections. It was already clear that I “did emotion” in our relationship. Creating room for him sounded equitable, and I liked (like!) equitable.
My Sweetie also agreed to give it a shot. So Talk Time began, on Thursday nights, after dinner (about 7pm).
Don’t let our cheerleading for the practice fool you. It was hard. It is still sometimes hard, though we are much more accustomed to sitting in silence for My Sweetie’s full 15 minutes than we were at first.
Because here’s the thing. Talk Time doesn’t work if one party cedes their time. (That is, one saying “Oh, I don’t have anything. It’s your turn.”) Its ultimate purpose is to ensure that each partner feels they have a voice, and that voice is heard.
Generally there’s one partner who is All Over that “have a voice” thing—they speak early, and often. (Waves hand here.) Oftentimes that means the other partner doesn’t speak. Granted, that’s frequently from some position of choice… but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be said.
What we discovered in those long silences was that My Sweetie operates best in large pools of quiet. When the dragonflies of his beloved’s words settle on the water, My Sweetie catches the currents of his own emotions, and his words bubble up.
Similarly, when My Sweetie is faced with long, long silence—to get a feel, consider that “a moment of silence” in public spaces is about 15 seconds—even when he thinks he has nothing to say, something makes its presence felt. Those times, he doesn’t know what he’s feeling until he holds still and waits for it.
Plus it’s uncomfortable to hold silence when those words arrive. It feels like the withholding it is. As a partner with goodwill toward the other, it becomes clear that speaking—no matter how the other might respond—is the loving choice.
Remember how first comes the uninterrupted time? That part is super important—not just to give enough room for the habitually quiet to find a voice, but to ensure that explosive topics can be spoken from one end to the other… and back again, if needed.
I didn’t put this in The Rules, but an underlying component of the optional Q&A time is that the recently-listening partner works their hardest to keep any questions or explorations in the calmest, most open frame. If the speaking partner doesn’t feel safe to say even dark and difficult things, Talk Time stops working. Though the speaking partner also needs to avoid accusation and aggression in their uninterrupted time, so that the listening partner doesn’t feel attacked.
This, too, can be hard. Learning to speak through my anger and frustration without attacking or accusing has become a profound discipline. Having My Sweetie’s wordless expressions to guide me in that discipline has been invaluable.
Why Talking About Talk Time Now
Somewhere in the girls’… early elementary years?… we drifted out of a routine Talk Time. We’d been steady with it for over half a decade, though, enough to build a practice strong enough to fall back on in the one-off conflicts of partnered life.
Tonight our dinner conversation centered around a November worksheet from our church’s marriage support ministry—old homework, as it were. One of the questions sparked our mutual memory, and we again affirmed what a sturdy base Talk Time built for us, even during our longest time of deepest conflict (thus far!).
My Sweetie said, “Y’know, when I leave… start to retire… . I think we should do Talk Time again. Because, well… [“Because it’s a time of great change?”] …Well, yeah, but… I might get on your nerves. It’s going to be a really different time.”
It definitely will be a different time. I’m glad he already thought about re-starting Talk Time, so we can establish the practice without either of us thinking there’s a problem behind it. And I’m glad we have such a good tool already in our pockets for our next relationship season!