Saturday, August 16, 2014

Scuba diving as couples therapy

Getting ready to take the plunge!

If you think it is hard to communicate with your partner on land, imagine what it's like underwater. Basic communication techniques such as speaking aloud are out. And what's left is a makeshift sign language consisting of a few predetermined signs (how much air do you have? Go up. Go down. I'm okay. I'm not great. Turtle. Shark. Boat.) and then a bunch of impromptu signs that both people may or may not be understood.

Me giving my patented all-is-swell "okay" sign in front of some lovely corals

It's those impromptu signs that indicate how well you, as a couple, communicate. Its part mind-reading, part knowing each other really well. For example, when I squeeze my fingers together and move them in a horizontal line, Josh knows that I'm pointing to a long skinny fish (one of my favorites). He nods with approval. When Josh moves his hand in a particular direction, I know he's mimicking a path he'd like us to take. When I give him the okay sign, he starts to swim in that direction.

The long skinny fish in question

Over the last dozen dives, we've done a good job of consistently using our individual sets of signs and re-learning each other's. All of this good work, though, goes out the window when we stumble on an unusual situation.

Earlier today I was having trouble with my ears mid-dive. (Normally my ears hurt at the start of the dive only.) Josh gave me the okay sign, to which I gave him the "I'm not great" sign and then pointed to my right ear. "Okay?" he signed back. "No," I shook my head, repeating the series of signs for my ear is not good. "Boat?" he asked. Hmmm. I didn't need to go back to the boat, I just needed to stay about 6 meters deep so my ear would stop freaking out. How to communicate that? Eventually I thought I got my message across, but it was hard to tell underwater.

Here fishy fishy!

A short time later during one of our many check-ins, I thought Josh said that his ear was hurting and he wanted to go to the boat. Well, "okay" I said, deferring to his discomfort over my desire to continue inspecting the coral and fish-gazing. On our way back to the boat, I asked about his air. He had plenty. I suggested taking a longer way back. "Okay," he responded. Apparently his ear had either worked itself out or we'd once again misunderstood each other underwater.

A Saddled Butterflyfish

The best thing about trying to communicate with a loved one underwater is that miscommunications are expected. There are no hurt feelings when one person misinterprets the other or just cannot figure out at all what the other is so excitedly pointing out. Like this conversation earlier today:

"Look at the awesome blue and black fish!" I try to say while pointing toward the fish
"What? I don't see anything of interest," Josh glances back at me with a confused look
"Look at the blue and black fish!!" I point with increasing animation
"I give up," Josh says with a shrug, turning away

In the land-based world, this interaction would have made me frustrated, and maybe Josh too. But underwater it's just another example of the difficulty of communicating through body language. We trust that the other person would love the blue and black fish if they had seen it and we know that the other person cares about us, even if they can't smile back. Spending time with my hubby underwater reminds me how much I trust him and how much we care about each other... even if he can't read my mind in the ocean or on land.

The happy couple under the sea


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