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A lesson from a Barista: Tips for a Happier Marriage

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By: Joe Dubowski, MS Associate Marriage and Family Therapistjoe-dubowski

A visit to the local coffee shop was turning into a disappointment. I went to the shop hoping to enjoy a specific type of hot tea they carried. Instead, I was told they no longer sold that tea. The conversation went something like this:

Barista: [Matching my disappointment] I’m sorry, sir. We just stopped carrying that tea last week. All we have is an iced tea. Would you like me to get you some of that instead?

[He made eye contact as he expressed an interest in making things right between us.]

Me: Oh, no! I really wanted some hot tea, and I was going to order a large cup of the green or perhaps some ginger tea.

Barista: I’m really sorry. You’re not the first customer who asked for the tea today. In fact, a lot of people have been asking for it.

Me: This is really disappointing. It’s not the first time I have been disappointed here. Why does Corporate keep changing things around like this?

Barista: I don’t understand why they did it either. I really liked those teas too. Is there anything else you might be interested in?

[I.e., “How can I make things right for you?”]

Me: You know, I used to come every year around this time for the holiday gingerbread loaf, and last year you didn’t carry it anymore.

[Behind this is the question I’m wondering, “Do you really care?”]

Barista: We do have that, sir. Would you like one?

Me: That’s great! I didn’t see them hiding behind the pumpkin loaf. Looks like it’s from a different supplier though. Glad someone was listening to customers and brought it back.

Barista: Yeah. I know what you mean. It is frustrating. I wasn’t working here when they stopped carrying it, but others have told me about it. So, would you like some water with that…?

You might be wondering what this has to do with marriage. The idea came to me after observing the way that the barista interacted with me, and how I felt in the end of our exchange. How many times has your partner expressed disapproval of something you have or have not done (as I did about the tea) only to have it turn into a quarrel? In most of those cases, you probably responded not as the barista did, but with defensiveness (or worse, silence). If you feel that such quarrels occur more often than you would like, then review these observations from my conversation with the barista:

 

  1. He made eye contact.

When we make eye contact with our partner, we communicate non-verbally our emotional state. We let them know we are being honest with them. We can communicate earnestness or annoyance with our expressions, or let our partner know that we did not fully understand what they mean (we look puzzled). When they don’t react the way we expect, we learn that we don’t understand their problem. All of that is missed in text messages, emails, and even phone conversations. Making eye contact is also the most fundamental way we can show our partner that we are interested in what they have to say.

 

  1. He empathized.

Empathy is defined as the capacity for participating in the feelings or ideas of another. When I was disappointed, the barista showed disappointment. When I was happy about the gingerbread loaf, he recognized that my mood had changed, and he changed along with me. By empathizing, we show our partner that their feelings matter to us.

 

  1. He asked questions aimed at making things right.

When we ask questions aimed at better understanding our partner’s needs and desires, we assure them we care. When we defend ourselves and minimize our mistakes (or avoid confrontation), they feel like they are no longer important to us. Even when I changed the subject from tea to pastry (ever had your partner bring up past complaints in the middle of an argument?), he let me know that he cared about that as well—even though it was not his fault!

Applying these observations in your own life is a simple way to make your relationships happier in the New Year.

If you’re struggling in your relationship, our counselors are here to help. Contact myself or our other therapists to schedule an appointment.

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