Caring Days: The Skill

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Caring Days
Learning Balance and Appropriate Selfishness

© Al Turtle 2003

One important issue that all couples face is “making things fair” and keeping them that way.  I believe things are fair when two people both believe they are fair.  When either thinks “it’s not fair” then it isn’t.   Takes only one for unfairness, and it takes two for it to be fair. 

One way to start on this subject is to make things equal.  While that doesn’t do the job, at least it is a start.  For example if you put a half watermelon on the table along side a chocolate milkshake and then offered them to Sandra and me, it would be a challenge.  You could put two plates and two glasses and divide the food up, but both of us would feel that was unfair.  You see, I would like all the milkshake and Sandra would like all the watermelon.  Equal isn’t necessarily fair, but it is a start.

Take Turns
Another strategy toward maintaining fairness to simply take turns.  One time you get it, the next time I get it. This also works pretty well and is a great habit.  I can think of three examples we have used with great success: Container Days, Encouragement Days, Caring Days.

Container Days
This comes directly from Imago Therapy and from the Getting The Love You Want Couples Weekend Workshop Manual.

The container day is a twenty-four hour day that is set aside for each partner.  On the first day, one partner agrees to listen to all the expressions of frustrations and to respond only with mirroring, validation and empathy.  On the next day, the partners switch and the partner who “contained” on the preceding day expresses all their frustrations and is responded to with the Couples Dialogue.  This alteration is continued for three months with Sundays off.  


A Container Day (sometimes called Safety Day) is the container transaction process stretched over a 24 hour period.  Extending the healing effect of this process over a longer period of time allows deeper feelings to emerge and further reduces the fear of anger in both partners.  With every decrease in the fear of anger, the relationship becomes safer and the basis of intimacy is deepened.  Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the necessity of emotional safety if you want your relationship to be filled with satisfaction and passion.


The purpose of the Container Day process is to create a safe environment to express your frustrations and negative feelings.  (These do build up, if not let off).  Few persons have ever been in an environment in which this was possible without fear of unpleasant consequences.  As children, most of us had to suppress our negative feelings because of a lack of support from our parents.  Even the best parents have difficulty being empathic when their children are frustrated, especially if the frustrations are directed at them.  Having no way to discharge pent-up painful feelings, we either acted them out with disruptive behavior for which we were punished, or we suppressed our impulses and replaced them with “nice” behavior for which we were rewarded.  Both solutions, of not being listened to in childhood, left us with blocked or denied pain which influences every interaction with our partners.  The use of container days will create an environment in which those feelings can be expressed without negative consequences, thus correcting this childhood situation.


Encouragement Days


Sandra and I modified this process considerably to fit our needs.  We saw dialogue about intensely difficult topics as a gold mine of potential for good stuff.  We shifted from “containing the negative” to encouraging the positive and taking turns.   Here is how it works.




We divided the week into three days for me and three days for Sandra.  We split the two long days – Saturday and Sunday.  I got Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  Sandra got Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.  We put up two signs so that we would be reminded of this daily.  The rules were simple.  Whoever’s day it was got encouraged to live, to express, to make decisions, to growl or whatever.  The other person became the support person for a day.  When it was Sandra’s day, I would wake up, see the sign and say, “It’s your day.  What would you like today?”   We practiced this for many months.


Two fun things happened because of this. 


First, over the months we got used to asking, “Who’s day is it?” before we did things.  Frequently, knowing who-was-being-encouraged helped in making decisions about what we did much easier.  To this day, we still do this.  We expecially do it whenever we go on vacations – which we do a lot.  A couple days before the vacation we toss a coin.  Whoever wins, gets the first vacation day and then we alternate from there on.  During a vacation there are so many decisions to be made: where to eat dinner, who sits by the window in the plane, what do we do on Friday.  Sometimes making the decision is fun, and sometimes it is a burden.  By taking turns, we share with all the work and the fun, and it seems fair to both of us.  Besides it provides a lot of pleasure and completely avoids that “I’ll do whatever you want,”  “No, I’ll do what youuuu want, etc.”


Second, one of our grandchildren saw the sign and asked about it.  She understood quickly and decided that she wanted Monday for herself.  Hearing this, we realized what a good and simple idea we had come across.   If she could grasp it a 6, like us for doing it, and want to share in it for herself immediately, it must be pretty good.  


Caring Days Exercise


We came across a more formal version that we share with our clients.  It is very simple and teaches many things such as generosity, appropriate selfishness and partnership discipline.  Here are it’s instructions.


Alternate Days.  One partner is the Caring Partner, One is the Cared-For Partner for the day.  In the morning the Caring Partner invites the Cared-For Partner to state current Caring Behavior wishes.  The Caring Partner takes notes on this paper.  List at least 6 caring behaviors.  List abstract or magical requests in the Global Request column.  Throughout the day the Caring Partner focuses on their partner and acts in nurturing, giving, and supportive ways as if they were the “good parent”.  Do as many of the Caring Behaviors on the list as you can. You do not need to do all of them.   Do this for 30 days.


The paper has two columns.  Magical or Global Requests are ok but discourages as no one can do them.  The goal is to teach both partners to express their desires in concrete doable terms.  Print form in PDF.


Here are examples of Global Requests:  Be nice to me. Make me happy. Love me. Make me feel safe. Fix my problems. Don’t demand things from me. Let me be me. Don’t get mad. Be happy all day. Like me no matter what I do. Don’t criticize me. Don’t make a mess. Don’t drive too fast. Buy me a new Mercedes. Do what I want, without me asking. Make the weather warm. Never look at another woman.


Here are examples of Specific Requests: Make me a cup of coffee.  Tell me 2 times to day, “I love you.”  Tell me 4 times today, “I’m glad you’re my partner.”   3 X   “You’re a good provider.”  Rub my neck for 5 minutes, gently.  Take me to dinner at Chapter Eleven (a specific restaurant).  Take out the garbage.  Give me a kiss before I go to work.  Make my lunch.  Take a shower with me.  Give me a “loving” card.  Buy me a candy bar, Milky Way.  Wash my car.  Clean up your office.  Ask me 2 times today “Is there anything else you want today?” Make a time this evening for us to just chat for a while – like 15 minutes. Read to me at bed time. 


I think you will find it more difficult to do when it is your day.   Learn from that. 




Caring Days: The Skill — 4 Comments

  1. Neither of my husband’s would have ever agreed to this level of effort. Do your couples (or probably more often one of them) ever balk at this intensity, especially after not getting along for a lengthy time?

    • Yeah, Curious, I’ve certainly met lots of people who are challenged by how much commitment they have toward making their relationship a good one. I often think of, and speak of, Vintage Love. (see my Map of Relationships) And while I believe it is a powerful drive in everyone, lots of people give up that falling in love journey. It’s sad, to me. My guess is that these guys somehow don’t realize your worth and do not realize they have to work to keep a relationship with you.

      Well, “the person who can leave has all the power”, so maybe you gotta look like “you can leave” in order to kick start ’em.

      • Any advice for this? Every one of my relationships has gone this way. I put lots of effort into listening, caring, gestures to make him happy. He reaps the benefits and is happy but he doesn’t put in any effort for me. I communicate my needs, communicate that I’m unhappy, then he makes a low to medium effort change for a short while and then falls back into almost no effort. After this repeats many times, I give up and end the relationship. He is distraught and tells me how happy he was with me.

        I see lots of people on the internet describe a similar position, but none of the advice seems very helpful. Common advice includes:
        * “Dump him and wait for someone who treats you better.” Okay, but what if this happens in all of my relationships?
        * “Be distant and withdrawn so he gets anxious .” No thanks for several reasons.
        * “Quit putting in any effort for him so he will ‘respect you’.” I highly doubt that works. Exactly the opposite of what Imago says to do.

        • Yeah, Unframed, A pretty common experience. I could say lots of guys are like this but in my experience there are a whole lot of women who do something similar. And we have nasty names for the guys (“assholes”) and women (“spoiled princesses”). Seems everyone has a lot to learn.

          When I used to teach couples I would always start with the idea that a relationship is a democracy. But most of us are not raised by parents who know how to operate in a democracy and thus don’t teach us the “wise ways” of making things fair for both. It’s only fair if both people think it is so at the same time.

          The reason those pieces of advice don’t usually work is cus they don’t address the underlying problems. And one of the most pernicious problems is not sharing, keeping secrets. If he’s reaping the benefits and you aren’t and you say nothing, then trouble ahead. If “it” is painful and repeats many time then you’re not using the right tools, skills, tactics and probably need to get help from the outside. Reading my stuff (Map of Relationships) is getting stuff from the outside. Seeing a good counselor is getting help from the outside.

          Go for it.

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