The idea is to establish a balance in your relationship, which can be difficult to do if you have a strong interest in the other person, or the two of you have developed an unbalanced interaction. Coming on too strong in the relationship may push the other person away, or may disguise a lack of enough interest on the other person's part. Don't keep hitting balls over the net if they're not returned. On the other hand, if you never hit the ball, but always wait for the other person to do it, you aren't playing a very good tennis game, either. It's essential that you do your part, because passivity is easily interpreted as a lack of interest, and can shut communication down. If you compare what has gone on in the relationship so far to a tennis game, you will quickly see if you've been either too passive or too aggressive.
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The Tennis Match: Volleying the Conversation
The tennis match is so central to balancing all your relationships and allowing them to find their appropriate levels that I've developed some guidelines you can use to understand and promote intimacy. Following the guidelines will help you and your partner understand each others’ needs and wants, and create natural boundaries that feel comfortable. It will give both of you the space and balance needed to show you are interested in what each other is saying, and want to hear more. Whether you're online, on the phone, or face to face, you need to keep the conversation going back and forth—what I call the tennis match.
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Tennis Match Guidelines for Understanding your Partner
• Take Turns: Leave room for your partner to open topics, to express opinion, to gather thoughts and express opinions. Don't jump right in to a silence if it's not your turn.
• Concentrate: Listen carefully to what your partner is saying -- don't wander off mentally into what you want to say next.
• Volley (Respond): After your partner says something, respond directly to it, letting him or her know that you heard and understood what was said, and, if possible that you have similar thoughts or experience.
• Don’t Argue: There is definitely a place for spirited discussion in good conversation, but be careful not to get too oppositional. Your objective is to establish understanding.
• Return the Serve: At the end of whatever you say, invite a response by adding “don't you think?” or “What do you think?” or, make your response a question.
• Serve Again: If your partner drops the ball, ask a question about something that was said before, and give your partner plenty of time to express his or her opinion.
If your tennis match goes on long enough, you’ll learn a lot about each other, and you'll both feel you have “so much to talk about.” The tennis game approach is not rigid, but a flexible attitude that you can adapt to almost any situation.