Posts tagged Communication
A very significant part of any discussion that you have with your spouse (or anyone for that matter) is how it begins. Marriage expert John Gottman asserts that the first three minutes of a conversation will determine where the discussion ends up. If a conversation begins with what he calls “harsh start up” odds are it will go nowhere, and fast. Actually, it will go somewhere, downhill.
What is harsh start up? It is exactly what it sounds like. It is when you approach your partner to talk about something, but do so in a harsh manner. It is where you go into the conversation with both gun barrels a’blazin. It usually involves an attack, placing blame, or just criticizing the other person for something they have done.
In fact, if the first three minutes of the conversation start badly, the plane will be very difficult to pull up, if not impossible. Conversations that start of harsh usually end on a bad note. So often, we go straight for the jugular in our exchange, and are then surprised that we have to clean the blood off the walls afterwards.
When we don’t approach our spouses with respect, even on hot button issues for us, the desired result of our discussion with them will always be elusive. When we hit our partners with our heavy firepower, a barrage of words that is anything but respectful, generally they are defensive and their first tendency is to fire back. It becomes a ping pong match, with each batting back an angrier word until things self destruct.
The interesting thing is, when a conversation becomes heated, and one or both partners become emotionally overwhelmed, the ability to listen reduces. In fact, our bodies undergo a physiological change to where our brains cannot receive and process information. So if we continue having conversations once it gets to this point, we will not be heard and the exchange will pull us farther away from our spouse.
We must remember, when it comes to communicating, we have a small window for the conversation to be effective. When we don’t begin with respect that window gets boarded up quick. We must approach our spouse the way we would like to be approached. Call it the golden rule of conversation, if you will. Begin all discussions in a soft way, regardless of how disgruntled, overwhelmed, fed up, or angry you are.
And if your spouse approaches you with harsh start up, instead of un-holstering your own guns for a word duel, respond with respect. Perhaps suggest that you both take a break and resume the conversation later. It might just turn the tides and then something meaningful can come from the discussion.
If we begin the discussion in a harsh way, we will crash and burn every time!
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath. – Proverbs 15:1
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
I can vaguely remember as a kid, people collecting green stamps. Does anyone remember those? When you shopped at certain supermarkets (or grocery stores, who actually says supermarkets anyway) or specific retailers, you would get these green stamps (aptly named because they were green and they were stamps). They would also give you these books to collect the stamps in, and you could bring them in to the green stamp center and trade them for a various assortment of goodies. The more stamps you collected, the more elaborate the item you could go home with. Some people would save their stamps for years and go home with televisions.
Nowadays, people still use the same gimmick, but the payoff is greatly reduced. Now, collecting stamps might get you a free ice cream at marble slab on your 8th visit or a free sweet tea from Mcalister’s Deli on your 10th trip. But hey, free is still free. So you might as well collect your stamps and cash them in.
While collecting stamps is great when you get free swag (I just love to say swaaag), it isn’t so great in marriage. What is that you say? You have been missing out? Your spouse doesn’t give you stamps to redeem for a free car wash, massage, or a night of dish duty? That isn’t the kind of stamp collecting I am referring to.
Stamp collecting occurs in marriage when our spouse messes up, and instead of letting them know, we put a “stamp” in our book. The next time they fall short, BAM, there goes another stamp in the book. We keep collecting stamp after stamp every time they don’t meet our expectations, let us down, or hurt our feelings.
Then one day, they make a mistake and we cash in every “stamp” we have been accumulating and unleash a fiery wrath down upon their head. Bewildered, they wonder why drinking out of the milk carton or putting the toilet paper on the roll backward is such a huge deal. They have no idea that we have been collecting stamps over the last weeks, months, or years.
Stamp collecting is a bad idea. If our spouses are doing something that bothers us then we must tell them. There is no way for them to fix it unless they are made aware of the situation. Our spouses will lose every time if we expect them to read our minds.
When we collect stamps it also leaves room for bitterness to take root in our hearts. We stay upset with our spouse for things that are not likely to be fixed. Let’s do ourselves and our spouses a favor and have conversations as they are needed.
Keep collecting stamps and enjoy the free sweet teas and ice creams, but in your marriage just deal with things as they arise.
Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. –Ephesians 4:26
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
A newlywed couple returns from their honeymoon filled with excitement from the week. They unpack, recount the fresh memories they just made and begin to make the adjustment of having another person living in their space. As the days unfold, a curious thing begins to happen. The kitchen trash begins to overflow. No one takes it out. Instead, each partner wonders how long the other will wait before bringing it to the curb. As the days go by, the trash grows higher, and their apartment smells increasingly worse. Each thinks that the other is a bit of a slob. Finally, the wife approaches her husband and politely asks, “How long do you plan to wait before taking out the trash? The paint is peeling of the walls in the kitchen.” “Me?” He responds. “I thought taking out the trash was your responsibility.” In her family of origin her father brought the trash out, and in his family of origin his mother brought the trash out. Each figured it would work the same way in their marriage.
This is an example of an unspoken rule. We tend to create rules in our minds about the way certain things should operate without communicating them to others. Unspoken rules exist in every area of life, but especially in marriage. Sometimes, couples create their own unspoken rules and everyone follows them, usually because they have similar rules. At other times, each partner brings these unspoken rules into the marriage and then wonders why their spouse does not abide by them.
The reason our spouse does not abide by our unspoken rules is because they are….well…unspoken. This seems straightforward enough, but so often tension builds in relationships because the other person isn’t abiding by our set of unspoken rules. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we are doing this. We think it must be obvious that our spouse should just fall in line with our set of unspoken rules. After all, isn’t this the way everyone should conduct themselves?
Sometimes we confer to our spouse mind reading abilities that they do not have. They are not necessarily privy to how responsibilities were divided in our families growing up, who took on certain roles, or they way we think things should operate in the present.
A great deal of the time, these issues sort themselves out. As was the case with our newlywed friends, one can only stand so much trash piling up in the kitchen, so they had a discussion. But sometimes these things do not work themselves out, and one party just takes out the trash, feeling they are doing the other person’s duty. This then leaves room for on spouse to feel bitter or resentful toward the other. One just assumes the other is being lazy, selfish, or obstinate, when in reality, the other person believes things are running as they should be.
So what is the moral of the story? Your spouse cannot read your mind. You have to tell them when things are bothering you. You have to clue them in to your world. Just because they are not following the rules that exist in your mind that you have never told them does not mean they are trying to slight you or ruin your day. It could be that they just don’t know.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
What were/are some of the unspoken rules you brought into your marriage?
Here were a few of mine (which were different than my wife’s):
-Weekends are for staying home, relaxing, and watching movies.
-Laundry should be divided in three separate hampers.
-Microwaves are for heating food, but also storing open containers of food.
-When someone “beeps in” while you are on the phone, you switch over.
In working with couples, there are three topics that occur with great frequency: money, sex, and communication. All of these are important, but the prior two are difficult to address without the latter. To change situations in our relationships requires talking about them. It is astounding at times the deficit we often have in communicating with our spouses.
Now, learning to better dialogue with your spouse is by no means a silver bullet. A couple can have amazing communication skills and still have other detriments in their marriage that must be resolved, but honest discussion does much to facilitate the change process within a marriage, as well as keeping it well maintained.
So, how can we improve communicating with our spouse? Let’s look at some practical examples.
- Never make assumptions. If you aren’t certain about something talk about it with your spouse. Assumptions break down communication in a destructive way. You may or may not be right. So ask when you don’t know.
- Don’t just talk about serious things. Enjoy lighthearted conversations as well. Growing your friendship makes it easier to talk about more important issues.
- Talk about what God is doing in your life. I have found that many couples experience difficulty discussing spiritual matters. Prayer and reading together are a good way to open up the spiritual lines of communication.
- LISTEN! So often we are concerned about being heard. Are you really hearing what your spouse is trying to communicate, or are you too preoccupied with your own agenda?
- Ask for clarification. “This is what I am hearing you say. Do I understand you correctly?”
- Don’t sweep problems under the rug. Talk about it, even if it is uncomfortable.
- If an important discussion gets heated or difficult, take a break. Sometimes we need a time out to calm down and be able to look at the situation objectively. Make sure to come back and resolve the issue if it warrants it (sometimes a break lets you realize the whole conversation was silly). A mistake couples often make when they take a time out is failing to come back and resolve the issue.
- Don’t collect stamps. Whenever your spouse is doing something that bothers you talk about it within a reasonable time frame. Don’t keep tallying up everything they do, put a stamp in your book, and one day redeem them all in at once by informing your spouse of 34 things they are doing that grate on your nerves. Stay in the here and now.
- Don’t mind read or expect your spouse to read your mind. You spouse cannot be expected to know what you want unless you tell them. They cannot fix behaviors unless you let them know there is a problem.
- Don’t serve your spouse steak on a garbage can lid. I heard Bill Cosby give this analogy once and it stuck. How appetizing is it if you have your favorite meal prepared and then it is served to you on a germ encrusted garbage can lid? When you approach your spouse with a problem or something that needs to be changed present the information in a positive way, not on a garbage can lid. Presentation counts for a lot. If you come at your spouse blaming or condemning the conversation will probably not go well. Instead, approach them out of love and respect.
- Talk to your spouse the way you would like to be talked to. Call it the golden rule of communication.
- Understand that communicating isn’t about being right. Sometimes it is good to ask ourselves, “Do we want to be right or do we want to be married?” Talk to fix, address, and change, not to win.
- Don’t just communicate about the bad. It is nice to be affirmed and told what you are doing right once and again too!
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. –James 1:19
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
What would you suggest to improve communication with one’s spouse?