I’m part of a wonderful Facebook community of moms. I love the group because no one is judgmental of each other – it’s a safe and loving place to get help / support on all kinds of things. Sometimes you need to know that you are not the only crazy one or that your kids are not the only looney ones out there. That this crazy journey called motherhood… can be kind of crazy but we are not losing it. =)
The other day, the topic of communication came up. As I finished responding, I thought – you know, I would like to share more of what I have learned because I think there are others out there going through the same thing. I am by no means an expert, I do not have a degree in psychology nor do I have it all figured out. This is just me, writing from my heart, based on my own experiences and on teachings from others more wise than myself.
Communication is a challenging thing… in any relationship and especially in marriage. My husband and I have gone through our fair share of ups and downs; stressful conversations; arguments, etc. in our 8 years of marriage. It’s all been a learning experience for both of us and our relationship gets stronger when we find the way to work through the hard stuff. I am sure we still have plenty of more bumps ahead. I believe it takes practice, perseverance, authenticity, transparency, listening, an open mind and commitment.
1. Use “I” messages and LISTEN
“I” messages are the best way to share anything talking about your feelings. They look like this — “I felt ______ when _______.” When it get’s into “You ___ , when you____” it immediately puts the other person on the defensive. Not a great way to start things out and usually results in an argument.
Then there’s the listening part — that’s actually even harder and I’m not great at that. I’m trying to do a better job at listening to my husband – even if what he says might not be what I want to hear. Admittedly on a scale of 1-5, I am about a 2 at listening – I kind of suck at it most times and continue to work on improving. There’s a couple of different types of listening that I’m familiar with.
Active listening gives you a chance to kind of check to see if you heard the person correctly. Active listening goes something like this however it never really helped us reach a level of emotional understanding or really get anywhere with the conversation:
person 1: “I felt sad when I was left out of the conversation.”
person2: “Did I understand correctly that you felt sad?”
person 1: “Yes.”
Another kind and what I think is best kind (my opinion) is empathetic listening. Unlike active listening that basically just repeats what the person said, empathetic listening hears that person’s feelings a bit deeper and acknowledges it. Goes a little something like this:
person 1: “I felt sad when I was left out of the conversation.”
person 2: “I can understand how not including you would cause you to feel sad. I’m sorry” or “I can see your perspective”
person 1: “Thank you for understanding / seeing my perspective”
The thing is – regardless of whether we truly understand the other person’s hurt, anger or whatever feeling they are expressing – the acknowledgement of those feelings goes a long way towards healing. It says “I care that you are [hurt, angry, upset]. I may not understand though I can see your perspective; I’m willing to pause and step into your shoes for a minute.
Another psychologist I knew said once — “it would be great if couples could take a simple hurt and realize that it really is more like an ‘oops, I’m sorry’ instead of making it into a big thing. Because many times it really is that simple and your spouse isn’t meaning to hurt you”
2. Pass the baton or cup or whatever – Giving each person a chance to speak
My sister offered the advice once of picking an object that one person holds. As long as that person is holding that object they have the floor. When they are done, they pass it to the other person who has an equal opportunity to speak and respond. This prevents the interrupting (which drives me nuts) and each person is given the respect of being able to say everything that is on their mind.
3. What’s my script?
Sometimes we are so hurt by our spouse and it seems they just can’t say the right thing. In a recent women’s study group the woman leading the group actually invited her husband in for the last session. They are both relationship counselors. In that session they talked about ways that they have found work for them. One thing he said was that they have learned to ask “what’s my script?” They respond with the script and may add his or her own words at the end. Both shared that it gives the person an opportunity to express their needs for what they need to hear and for the opportunity to meet the other’s needs more precisely.
My husband and I have tried it (after I shared what I learned). It works when we do it. When we don’t – we go around in circles with one of us never really feeling heard or understood.
4. Take time for one another
Even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes a day – setting aside time to catch up and connect with one another. I know schedules can be crazy however making 5-10 minutes IS possible. Our children need to see that mommy and daddy value each other and put each other first. When we don’t take that time to connect with our spouses we become like ships passing in the night, irritation sets in. Schedule a date night a couple times / month. If you have a tight budget, do it at least once a month. Set aside money in your budget for dinner out, a baby sitter and something fun. It will give you a chance to remember why you came together in the first place.
5. Be an Example
Our children need to see how to resolve conflicts constructively, how to treat each other with respect, that it is ok to disagree, and how to be loving and caring in a relationship. The world makes it hard enough – let’s be the best example we can be for our kids. Perfection is off the table. Be real. Our children need realistic expectations of marriage.
6. Pray together / Reach out
If counseling is not an option – how about praying together? Or even asking your spouse “is there anything I can pray for you for today?” or “how can I help to make your life easier today?”
I’m learning that I have to humble myself and reach out if I want any connection. And sometimes I have to be the one to “make the first move” towards peace. It’s so humbling and so challenging though kindness and love begets kindness and love; resentment, anger, frustration only creates more of that. The enemy wants to drive a wedge between us; God wants to heal. LOVE is a powerful thing.
8. Commit to work through the tough stuff
Marriage is not a let’s get together and if it doesn’t work out we will go on our separate ways. Marriage takes hard work and a commitment to work through the tough stuff; to walk through the mire and the muck together. Communication challenges are not a reason to give up and throw in the towel. It’s a reason to buckle down and work harder, to commit to not giving up on one another; to finding the way through the challenges.
7. Be a student of your spouse
Take time to continue to learn about your spouse, what makes them tick, what’s important to them, what makes them hurt, sad, excited, etc. Sure – we knew who we married though people do grow and change. Be a student of that growth. Learning what I have about my husband’s perspective. He feels the most stressed when he feels like he’s not doing enough to provide for the family (behind on bills, etc); when I don’t hear his feelings or take them into consideration and when all I do is complain. He feels frustrated when he feels that he’s not living up to what HE believes are his obligations / responsibilities as a husband and caretaker of the household. I’ve tried to find little ways to show him that I do indeed appreciate what he does for me and for the family. It’s making a difference.
Truth is – most of what happens between us is unintentional – be it upsetting the other person, causing hurt, anger, etc. It’s unintentional and because we, humans are not flawless. It’s ok to apologize for something even if you didn’t mean to do it. Saying “I apologize that what I said hurt you. I never intended on that.” – says I care more about your hurt than my defense as to why I said what I said. It’s humbling. It means letting go and being vulnerable. And when you’ve truly done something wrong – just own up to it…it’s ok to not be right.
To Sum Up
God brings 2 people together to be in relationship with one another, to share and cultivate life. He never said that was going to be easy or without challenges. There were no promises of perfection or of not having to grow, change and continue to develop. In fact, sometimes we are each others’ sandpaper to help smooth out the rough edges of ourselves. I’ve definitely become a more patient, calm person since I met my husband! =) Each person is also experiencing all the normal stresses of life and sometimes we do take it out on one another. We all get snappy sometimes. It happens because we are human beings. Accepting we are imperfect, accepting ourselves and our spouses where we are in our journeys, giving ourselves and others grace, showing appreciation and loving unconditionally is not easy… however it’s what we are called to do.
My favorite advice Pastor Shane (the one who married my husband and I) gave us is to put a note where we can see it that says “my spouse is not my enemy”. We can all do well to remember that – especially when they are getting on our last nerve.
Blessings to all!