6 ways to avoid silence at the dinner table

By: Mila Kadelkova

Author: Canadian Living


6 ways to avoid silence at the dinner table

By: Mila Kadelkova
Whether you're newlywed or have been with your partner for years, the struggle to come up with fresh conversation at the dinner table can be a challenge. Even the wittiest and most intimate of couples need some ice-breakers now and again. We spoke to Mary Marano, a psychotherapist who practices out of Toronto and has over 20 years of experience counseling couples and families, for some easy ways to avoid silence at the dinner table.

1. Start with a morning kiss
Conversation and intimacy are rooted in how you start your day as a couple. "How you greet each other when you wake up in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day, including dinner," says Marano. If you're too busy to give your partner the time of day before you leave the house for work, the problem will only be worse by dinnertime. "Leaving the house grumpy after you've had conflict [with your spouse] will make trying to have conversation at the dinner table very difficult," says Marano. To avoid tension and let the chitchat flow freely, don't forget to sneak in that morning kiss and embrace before you jet off to work.

2. Look back at your childhood dinners
Often times our dinner table behaviour can be traced back to the family in which we grew up. How we conduct ourselves at the dinner table – from our manners to our conversation capacity – is often learned behaviour from our parents. "If you come from a family that was very reserved or you grew up in a conservative time, the expectations were very different," explains Marano. For many, talking while eating was not acceptable when they were growing up, and in order to change these learned behaviours we must first become aware of them. Ask yourself: What were your parents' expectations of you at the dinner table and is this why you struggle to maintain dialogue with your spouse?

Page 1 of 2 – Learn four more ways to shake up dinner conversation with your sweetie on page 2.

3. Avoid discussing relationship burdens
"Food is associated with love, security and safety," explains Marano, "and discussing burdens can affect the intimacy of a relationship leading to awkward silences." If you're struggling financially or you're going through a tough time as a couple, dinner is a good excuse to set these difficulties aside. "Set some boundaries about what's OK to talk about at the dinner table," advises Marano. If you agree to never discuss certain issues, dinner will become that intimate moment of the day that both of you look forward to. It will also be conducive to easy flowing conversation without silences rooted in relationship stresses.

4. Make it a routine
If you share meals together only once or twice a week, as a couple you're not adopting habits that encourage a talkative environment. "To avoid silence at dinner, first you have to look at how many times during the week you engage and have dinner together," says Marano. If you and your spouse both lead busy lives and rarely make it a point to share meals, take the initiative and turn it into tradition that every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday you have dinner together – no ifs, ands or buts. Once you get into the habit, you'll look forward to sharing all the odd, interesting and sometimes frustrating events of your day with your partner.

5. Remove any distractions
Although this might seem obvious, in this day and age checking our e-mail, texting or watching TV while we dine is more common than we realize. Such distractions often come across as disrespectful to your spouse and may lead to conflict and resentment. "Dinner is a time to reconnect with your partner, not a time to text or watch TV," emphasizes Marano. It's difficult to maintain any conversation, let alone a good one, when one of you is attached to a BlackBerry. Try "unplugging" for a night and show interest in your significant other: use this time to let them know you care and support them. You'll be surprised how easy the conversation will flow once they feel you're interested.

6. Prepare dinner together
This tip is especially helpful for those couples that have been together for a long time and might feel like they've run out of things to say. "Start by making the meal together and conversing while you're cooking," recommends Marano. Food is an easy topic of discussion and cooking as a couple will give you conversation starters before you even get to the table to enjoy the meal. "Sometimes it's difficult for people to come out of their shell and [this activity] sets up the nurturing and comforting atmosphere that's associated with food," explains Marano.

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6 ways to avoid silence at the dinner table