I have found that the crux of most problems in relationships, whether it's between those you love due to romantic feelings or those you love due to obliga-- I mean familial relationships. Most of the time it's not that the other person is being a jerk to you, he's just not getting his point across well (which, as I explore a little more in depth, is always the speaker's responsibility!). You're interpreting it a certain way based on what you're hearing, but often (read: almost every time) it's not what the other person meant. You then react to what he said based on your interpretation, probably in a snide way, which gets a bad reaction from him, and then it goes on and on and on. Don't you wish that you could just pull a Zach Morris and call timeout? Well, copyrights say you can't, but using a safe word is the next best thing. And doesn't require a ten-pound cell phone.
Tom: Honey, are you almost ready?
Betty: I'm going as fast as I can. Why do you always rush me?
Tom: What are you talking about? I'm just trying to get there for once.
Betty: Well if you would get home earlier then we could leave earlier!
And so on and so forth until I'm getting a call or e-mail from Betty about how Tom never listens or a message from Tom wondering what the hell just happened. So where did it go wrong? Right after Betty got defensive and Tom chose to respond with an aggressive comment. The fault is on Tom since while Betty misunderstood what he said, it was Tom's job to clarify.
A safe word could easily come into play here. What, exactly, is a safe word? It's basically a phrase that people agree on that has a meaning that both understand. Think of it like an inside joke that is actually a command, request, or alert. Safe words are most commonly used in sexual situations where there's role playing or some sort of sadism and/or masochism going on in order to prevent things from going too far. It's not just for that situation, though. You can use it for everything from saying, "Time out" to "You're doing it again" to "Just go along with what I'm saying, I'll explain later."
What makes a good safe word? Here are a couple of tips:
- A word or phrase that you both know. No use in picking something that needs to be said quickly if it's an SAT word that you never quite pronounced correctly.
- Something that you don't use too often. If you decide on a word you use every day in every situation, like, well, "like" or something along those lines, then the word loses its uniqueness, its power, and it doesn't stand out when said.
- Something that can sound natural in many environments. I know that kind of seems contradictory to the above, but this word could be used in social situations and you don't want it to stand out to anyone else. Can't be out shoveling snow and have "tanning bed" as your safe word.
- The shorter the better. "How many licks to the center of a lollipop?" takes too long, and remember, it's something that you don't want other people to catch onto.
- Something that wouldn't easily be confused for another word or phrase. Remember that you won't always hear it clearly, so you want to make sure it stands out to the other person.
One that I recommend a lot is the word "lamp." Unless you're watching "Aladdin" (which I would totally understand because it's amazing), you don't really use that word. Everyone knows it, it doesn't sound like anything except for "lamb" (which you also don't use often), and it's very quick to say. Also, it can be worked into a conversation very easily (as you can always bring up "Aladdin", which I will be watching as soon as I post this).
Other times, when it's just you and the other person with no one else around, you can have ones that are a little longer. One time I worked with a couple, two amazing people, who both had very long hours that involved talking with people all day long, often not pleasant conversations. Coming home and having a long, drawn-out conversation was the last thing that either wanted, but there's always that feeling of, "Wait, she's not talking to me. Is she mad at me? I'd better go ask so that she'll be mad at me for bothering her and then I'll know for sure." So we worked out that when she came home she would say to him, "Honey, I'm gonna go water the plants." Was she going to water plants? No, it was just a way of saying, "Honey, hello, I acknowledge your presence, I want to talk to you, I'm not mad at you, I love you, but I just need a little bit of a break from talking to people, so I'm going to take some time to myself." That phrase literally put things on the right track for them, and unlike Taylor Swift, I haven't copyrighted it, so feel free to use it.
Another situation where this comes in handy is when you're either in a tense or outright dangerous situation, and you need the other person to just follow your lead and you'll explain later. I once was trying to get a better deal on a car and my friend who came with me tried to correct the car salesperson (who had actually made a mistake in my favor), and I could've killed my friend for it. Luckily the salesman didn't hear, but now I have a safe word that I use that just means, "This might sound crazy, but shut up, follow my lead, and I'll explain later." It also comes in handy in potential conflicts. I interned in child welfare in Baltimore City, and while for the most part it was easy going, let's just say I needed to diffuse a quickly-escalating situation more than once.
One last example is that I've used it with people when they felt that they were in dangerous situations, either with their parents or significant others, and it was a signal for me to either come over right away, call the police, or take another pre-determined action in order to maintain everyone's safety. Please don't underestimate how important this can be.
So while you may not be able to be Zack Morris and call time out in real life, you can still make situations run a little more smoothly by using a safe word with those you love (or want to shut up when you're buying a car). Whether it's saving you from getting in trouble with your own Mr. Belding or stopping fights before they even start, safe words are extremely helpful.
Now I'm off to find my copy of "Aladdin" . . .