How long must you wait until you reply to your spouse on any controversial or emotionally charged topic? After you have been a good listener, when do you finally get a chance to be heard?
Whether conversation takes place in my office or in the couple's home, I always recommend a 24 hour waiting period before the listener is allowed to respond.
The waiting period of 24 hours does not need to be rigidly enforced with stopwatch precision. What really matters is that a full day has gone by and the couple has had the opportunity to sleep on the controversial or emotionally charged topic before the speaking and listening roles are reversed.
In case it sounds preposterous to wait for 24 hours before you rebut, challenge or correct your spouse, just listen to what Sam had to say about the "24 hour rule."
I was meeting with Sam and his wife, Nava, for our final session. I had just asked them to critique the work we had done.
Sam, the balding C.E.O. of a well known ladies' sportswear company, answered first. "I think that 24 hour rule of yours was the most helpful, at least for me," Sam eagerly volunteered. "Now we handle disagreements a lot better than we used to."
Just what was it about the 24 hour rule that Sam found so helpful, I probed.
"You know, Dr. Wikler, when we left your office after that first counseling session, I knew I would not be able to adhere to that rule. And as soon as we got into the car to drive home, I jumped on Nava for criticizing me the way she did in front of you. I told her she made me sound as if I were some kind of ogre.
"Then Nava stopped and repeated to me what you had said - that I was only allowed to comment on what Nava said in your office after a 24 hour waiting period. I was fuming. And I thought I would explode. But I kept the lid on until the next day.
"Over the next few months, it has been extremely difficult for me to wait 24 hours before I respond to something Nava says that I disagree with. But each time I do, I can see how brilliant it is.
"First of all, the rule helps me sort out the important from the trivial. Sometimes, for example, Nava will say something while she is the speaker that I feel is incorrect. In the past, I would have interrupted her right away to set the record straight. Now, very often after waiting, I realize that it was not that important at all, and had little to do with the main point of whatever it was that Nava was trying to tell me.
"Secondly, it really does help with the listening part. Since I know that I will not be able to answer back to anything Nava says to me during one of our communication sessions at home, I really can focus more on trying to understand what she is telling me.
"Last, but certainly not least, that 24 hour rule helped me to control my temper. If I got angry with Nava before we came to you, I would have blurted out whatever was on my mind. And many times, I was sorry later for what I had said. But with the 24 hour rule, I have to wait before speaking. Then, when my turn does come, I'm not nearly as upset as I was a day earlier."
Nava was nervously twirling her necklace and sitting impatiently as Sam was talking. She was clearly eager to share her own thoughts.
"The 24 hour rule was helpful for all of the reasons which you mentioned, Sam. But it was also beneficial to me because … it gave me hope."
Nava's eyes welled up with tears and she dabbed them with a tissue. Sam turned to her with sympathy all over his face and asked, "What is it, honey?"
"When we first came here, I was seriously considering divorce. We had been married for 29 years. All of our children had grown up and I just felt that I could not get through to you - that you did not listen or care to understand how I felt. I was so frustrated because even our rabbi could not get you to change. I said to myself, 'If he cannot understand why I get so upset with him all the time, then maybe we should just get divorced and be done with it.'
"But then we came here and started following that 24 hour rule. So whenever I spoke to you, you had to listen and think about what I had said for a full day before you could answer back. Just knowing that you were thinking about what I had said gave me hope that maybe, maybe things could improve in our marriage."
"I think the 24 hour rule helped you to control your temper, too, sweetheart," Sam teased. Then they both smiled, shyly, at each other.
The main objective of the rule is not that silence should prevail on any given topic for a day, but that spouses should consider each other's feelings for a full day before contradicting, rebutting or challenging.
Excerpted with permission of the author and publisher from, "Ten Minutes a Day to a Better Marriage: Getting Your Spouse to Understand You," by Dr. Meir Wikler (Artscroll/Mesorah Publications, 2003)