Today I want to give you a communication tool you can put to use right away in your marriage, partnership, or workplace.
It’s a fork.
But it’s also the best communication tool we’ve ever learned and has saved my marriage more times than you might believe. My husband Nick and I swear by it.
We call it the “Give A Fork System” or GAF for short.
(Except that we definitely don’t say fork.)
It’s a quick way to rate the importance of something you’re discussing with your significant other or anyone you care about.
That might not sound revolutionary, but stick with me; this is literally the BEST communication tool I’ve ever tried, and I’ve tried most of them.
We learned it from our amazing therapist, who wants to be anonymous and won’t let me give them any of the credit. And the clever royal badasses in the Queen Sweep came up with the name, inspired by the TV show The Good Place.
Here’s how it works. You ask yourself,
How many forks do I give about this? Do I give a fork at all?
Then, you tell the other person how much the topic matters to you on a scale of 0 to 10.
If you only give one fork, that means you really couldn’t care less and will only pick a side if you have to.
If you give five forks, you definitely have an opinion but there’s still plenty of wiggle room.
If it’s 8 forks, it REALLY MATTERS A LOT.
If it’s 10 forks, it’s a deal breaker. Non-negotiable.
This might sound simple, but it’s simple like a lever is simple. It can shift MOUNTAINS.
What we realized is that often we’d get caught up in an argument over something that was only a 2 or 3-fork topic for one or both of us. Which kind of tupperware is better? Where should we keep the vacuum cleaner? What kind of toothpaste should we buy for the kids?
If pressed, we could both come up with an opinion on any of those things, and want to defend that opinion. So we ended up arguing about the dumbest things.
It was an incredible relief to stop and say, “Wait, this is only like 2 forks for me, I totally don’t care.”
If it was a 2 for both of us, no big deal, we’d just pick something and move on.
But sometimes one of us would say, “This is only like 3 forks for me, I don’t even know why we’re arguing about this,” and the other one would say, “Really?? Because it’s a 7 for me because of [fill in the backstory] and I feel super anxious about it!”
Again, easy peasy— we’d go with the person to whom it mattered most. And, we often learned something surprising and helpful.
We’ve read a lot of books and tried a lot of things, but the Give A Fork system is the best communication tool we’ve ever found. It allows us to tread more carefully when we know we’re dealing with topics that we both feel really passionately about. It signals that we are dealing with primal boundaries and values, and lets us go gently, with intention.
You’ll learn a lot about the person you’re talking to when you start framing things like this. Do they give many forks about EVERYTHING? Are they surprisingly chill about most things? Were you hitting up against a 8-fork issue for them and had no idea?
Nick and I were shocked by how many of our disagreements and irritations simply evaporated when we started using this tool. We’d both been putting up with things that it turned out the other person gave zero forks about, but really rubbed us raw.
This kind of meta-conversation brings incredible clarity to your conversations. It can be so helpful to know that something you thought was trivial is actually reeeallly important to your partner (or boss, or friend, or kid).
And it can be super helpful, if you’re feeling unheard or panicky, to be able to say, “This topic is an 8 for me. This feels really intense.” Hopefully, the person you’re talking to will say, “Oh, thank you for telling me. Okay, I’m listening.”
Whenever we share this tool (we are the MOST fun at dinner parties: Ooooh, wanna know the best communication tool for our marriage?!?! Also what Enneagram type are you?!?), people always ask us, “But what if you DO come to something that is a 10-fork issue for both of you, and you disagree?”
There’s such horror in their faces. It seems that many people would almost rather not know.
(And that too is illuminating!)
So. What to do when you come up against a topic where you both feel like it’s a 9 or a 10? A non-negotiable? A deal breaker?
You set up a session with your therapist or your coach.
You may think I am joking. I am not.
If something is a 9 or a 10 for you, and you and your partner disagree, you’ve bumped up against the hard question: “Is this really a deal breaker for you? Would you walk away from the relationship/marriage/job over it?”
Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes no.
Luckily, for Nick and I, the answer has never been yes for both of us at the same time. And the one time we came close, we were able to dig deeper into WHY things mattered so much to the other, and bring more nuance and creativity to our problem-solving so that we each still felt safe with the end result.
But if that does happen, if you discover you truly are at a deal-breaker impasse, you’re actually in the exact same spot you always were. But at least now you know it. You’ve named it. And you’ve at least given each other a chance to meet each other halfway.
Sometimes, it’s true, this clarity might mean that you find yourself starting down a difficult choice. But at least you’ll know exactly what that choice is, and why you’re making it.
More often, though, you’ll find that your conversations will get lighter and arguments will dissipate.
Plus, it’s really fun to say, “I give zero forks. How about you?” (Unless, of course, you’re an Enneagram 4, like me, and you give many forks about many things. But being forced to put a number on things has forced me to choose my high numbers more wisely and sparingly.)
Being in relationship– with a romantic partner, with intimate family, with friends, with colleagues, even with yourself– is brave.
Bravo for having the courage to get honest with yourself and the people you talk with. Bravo for honoring what matters most to you. Bravo for speaking your truth.
About that, my friend, I give ALL the forks.