How Baseball Can Save Your Marriage: A Game of Pitch and Catch
Part One: Pitch
When you teach children how to play baseball, you usually begin by teaching them how to play pitch and catch.
Young kids start off struggling with their aim. They throw the ball over each other’s head, way to the side and often in the dirt. They do more chasing than catching. They have to work really hard to have a good game of catch.
Communication takes a lot of work. You play pitch and catch with your partner. You speak and then your spouse speaks. You make comments back and forth in a give- and-take dialogue. Like a game of catch, communication easily breaks down.
If one of you refuses to speak, it breaks down immediately. Imagine a game of pitch and catch with one player refusing to throw the ball. If you refuse to speak up and share what you are thinking and feeling, there is no way your partner can hear you and respond to what you want and need. You are forcing your spouse to read your mind, and that normally does not end well.
You want your partner to be able to catch what you are trying to say. If you are not clear on your message, your meaning will not be clear to your partner. You will end up stating complaints but fail to make a request. You will, in essence, throw the ball over your partners head, way to the side or in the dirt. Then, it benefits neither of you. In fact, it makes communication very frustrating. You feel disconnected. It makes it easy to want to quit. It is exhausting.
When you are communicating about something that is important to you, you want your partner to be able to hear you and understand where you’re coming from. If it is a request you’re making or a concern you are expressing, you want what you to say to influence your partner’s behavior. Being heard, at least in part, depends on how you speak—on how you throw the ball.
So let’s get practical. Since you want to be heard and understood, let’s make it as easy as possible for your partner to catch what you’re trying to say. Here are five tips for how to more effectively communicate with your partner.
1. Manage your emotions. Don’t approach your partner in anger or frustration.
2. Consider your words before you speak. Choose words your spouse can digest.
3. Make sure what you say will benefit both of you. Make it win-win.
4. Be direct and concise. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t over build your case.
5. If expressing a concern, be clear what you want and what you are asking for.
Part Two: Catch
A good game of pitch and catch is much more enjoyable when you catch the ball. Otherwise, it is a game of pitch and chase. So how do you teach a child how to catch. You start by talking about keeping your eye on the ball, using both hands and gripping the glove.
Catching is very important. Obviously, you can’t throw the ball until you catch it. Consider a double play. The ball is hit to the short stop, the short stop throws it to the second basemen who in turn throws it to first. The second baseman has to be able to catch the ball before throwing the runner out at first.
As in a game of pitch and catch, before you throw the ball or react to your partner, you need to be able to catch what the other person is saying. That requires intent and focus. It also requires wanting to know and understand what your partner is thinking and feeling. Since you can easily jump to conclusions, it requires challenging your assumptions.
So much of the time, people talk at each other or down to each other rather than truly communicating. The ball is thrown back-and-forth like you are volleying in a tennis match.
Often times this occurs, because people are intent in making their point and intent on winning the argument. Rather than listening, they are thinking about what they want to say next. They are going for the big win.
It is ok when people disagree, but it can be so much better when each partner feels they are heard and understood. That means each person respects what the other partner said. In Dr. John Gottman’s research, he found that one of the tipping points of a marriage lasting or failing is whether each spouse feels influence in the relationship.
So how do you catch what the other person says in a way that builds influence?
Here are 5 tips to better catch what your spouse is saying.
1. Listen without distraction. Put your phone down.
2. Give eye contact. Keep your eye on the ball.
3. Give a response. Nod your head, smile. Show empathy.
4. Ask questions. Not debate questions but questions to understand.
5. Summarize when appropriate to make sure you understand what has been said.
Part Three: Stretch
A good game of pitch and catch is a partnership. The pitcher does not throw the ball with the idea that he has done his job and wherever the ball is thrown, it’s up to the catcher to snag it. Nor is it the attitude of the catcher to hold the glove in one place and expect the ball to always hit the glove without having to make any effort to move or stretch to be able to catch the ball.
Think about it. When the ball is hit to the third baseman who throws it to first, what is the first baseman doing? He’s not standing nonchalantly with his his hands on his hips. He is stretching towards the throw. The first baseman moves wherever the ball is at in order to catch it while still keeping his foot on the bag.
When it comes to communication, it is so incredibly important that spouses stretch toward each other. No one is going to be perfect 100% of the time pitching comments or catching comments. That is why good communication includes stretching toward the other person. What does this look like?
Here are five tips for how to stretch toward each other during communication.
• Ask questions of clarification to make sure you understand.
• Look for common ground.
• Find something you can agree with and validate.
• Accept responsibility for even a small part. It is a great repair attempt.
• Give feedback and share your perspective without negating what your partner said.
What do you do next?
• If you want to enjoy some baseball, go watch a game.
• If you want to be a better listener, send me a message on my Contact Me page and I’ll send you a questionnaire I wrote called, “The Path and Pitfalls of Listening”.