The Five Yeses

The Five Yeses

The Five Yeses is a simple tool for communication that increases your ability to empathize with your partner. To do the exercise, one person will make a statement about something important to him or her. The second person will then ask yes-or-no questions about that statement until the first partner has given five yeses. One time we taught this skill to a marriage group that we had belonged to eight years before, which had continued to meet after we left. We came back because one of the wives was talking about leaving her husband. We invited him to make a statement, and her to ask questions until she got five yeses.

Husband: I miss you and I want to spend more time with you.

Wife: You resent that I got a job?

Husband: No.

Wife: You don’t like having to do more around the house?

Husband: No.

Wife: You are jealous that I have new friends and my own income?

Husband: No. 

She paused. It was clear that she was so intent on her own reaction that she had no idea what he had said. We invited him to say it again.

Husband: I miss you and I want to spend more time with you.

Wife: Do you want to spend more time with me, apart from the kids?

Husband: Yes. [#1]

Wife: Do you miss our Friday night dates?

Husband: Yes. [#2]

Wife: Is it ok with you that I got a job?

Husband: Yes. [#3]

Wife: Do you miss me?

Husband: Yes. [#4]

Wife: Do you love me?

Husband: Yes.[#5]

 That moment changed the course of their marriage.

She stayed.  



A cancer survivor presented to my Stephen Ministry group. He wanted to both affirm our efforts to be compassionate listeners, and to offer insights into what is helpful to someone experiencing a medical crisis. 

Some of his suggestions were not surprising. Providing meals, doing laundry, and offering childcare made a difference, especially if they did not involve decision making for the ones receiving it. Even that deceptively small step can be draining for an already overloaded brain. He personally felt a wave of support from his community and extended family throughout his many months of treatment which included practically every test yet devised. He taught us the notion of scanxiety, which is the discomfort that builds up after a series of invasive procedures. 

He also spelled out things that are unhelpful. Comments that minimize the trauma, or pull attention from the patient to the speaker’s own history do more harm than good. As do efforts to give empty reassurance. 

“You will be okay.”

“Let me tell you about what I went through.”

“Don’t be scared.”

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

“There is an alternative treatment you really have to try.”

I was moved to hear that he strove to hear the well meaning intentions within their words. And yet it might serve all of us better to screen such advice giving before we speak. 

He described the deep sadness that was his companion. Love for his wife and children had come under fire with the possibility of not living a full life with them. Amazingly, anger did not make a strong appearance. This is not true of everyone fighting cancer. 

But in the absence of certainty, or time travel into his own future, he held tight to something else. Hope.