Recently, a colleague asked me if I was embarrassed or self-conscious about discussing important relationship topics in terms of cows. Many of my patients have purchased my book, “An Eight-Cow Woman Deserves an Eight-Cow Man” and have participated in The Eight-Cow Relationship program. Initially I thought, “Oh my goodness. Here I am a physician and I am talking to my patients about cows. What are they really going to think?”

To my surprise, they opened up and a typical conversation would go as follows.

“Dr. Erickson, I am excited about the fact that I now have a language that my partner and I can communicate with. It has this wonderful metaphor about cows. I don’t feel threatened and I am able to have a conversation with my spouse that is sort of off-label. We can discuss important topics safely without the perception that I am attacking him or he is attacking me.”

“Instead we can talk about cows. If I feel that he is one cow shy, I feel I can tell him that he doesn’t have this particular cow. I am not specifically telling him he has a flaw, I am just telling him to go out and get some more cows. That has helped us bind our relationship together without undo confrontation.”

As I began to have more and more of this type of conversation with my patients and as I started hearing feedback from therapists who were using our program, I realized we had created a “safe language” with which to discuss relationships.

A safe language, therapists have verified, is a critical piece in the communication between couples. As relationships become strained, the words that they reach for are so emotionally toned that it creates discord in the conversation because there is so much emotion tapped into it.

Using the Eight-Cow metaphor creates an opportunity for dialogue between the couple that doesn’t cause direct confrontation that would belittle or demean the individual. It creates an opportunity to discuss in very real practical terms the lack of a particular cow—but doing it in such a way that couples can relate to each other and maintain appropriate kindness in their communication with each other.

Ty B. Erickson, MD