I have a very interesting relationship.
I’m an American with a German girlfriend. Not only that, but I now live in Germany.
Maya and I met in Manhattan in 2007 – she was an au pair – and I
decided to move to Germany in 2013.
Over the years, I have flown over the Atlantic Ocean more times than I can remember, spent unthinkable sums on long-distance phone cards and eaten enough bratwurst for a lifetime.
Like most couples, Maya and I have our fights.
But when I first moved to Germany, we were really fighting.
Small things, like how frequently the dishes should be done, how to
train our dog or who should run which errands, were leading to huge
We didn’t know what to do.
The fights got so bad and so frequent that on several occasions we considered breaking up.
But then we actually found a solution, a kind of strange one, but a
solution: We decided that we would only speak in German.
I’m fluent in German, but we had always spoken English.
Our hope was that switching to German would somehow set us on a better track.
And it worked.
What we found was this: If we spoke in German, our fights would be resolved much more quickly and wouldn’t be anywhere near as intense.
Interesting, right? But why?
Personally, I found that when I didn’t have as much language at my
fingertips, it was harder to get angry.
I was forced to think more about what I wanted to say, which drew my focus away from my anger.
Also, I used fewer or no curse words.
My girlfriend thinks that speaking in German did the trick because it
forced us to communicate at a much more basic level, which eradicated the kinds of ambiguities that had led to previous fights.
Though the tack Maya and I took to try to reduce our quarreling might be unusual, its reason for having worked does make sense, according to François Grosjean, emeritus professor of linguistics at Neuchâtel University in Switzerland and author of several books on bilingualism.
Grosjean said that when Maya and I switched to German, we both,
consciously or not, began to be more careful with what we said, which probably led to our being more patient with each other.
So I guess the takeaway is this: If you’re looking to reduce the number of fights you have with the missus or if you are looking to reduce the intensity of the fights you’re having, learn German.
Just measure your words more and try to be more patient.
Such actions have got to be universally effective.
Editor’s Note: Or as they say in German Eine neue Sprache, um eine Beziehung zu heilen. (Finding a language to heal a relationship.)
Chad Smith is a freelance journalist and English teacher who is originally from Queens, New York. He now lives in Hamburg, Germany. Some of his hobbies include swimming, chess, reading and photography.
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