Lessons in Communication


I’m jotting all this down for a friend.

Over my 15 years of marriage, I’ve had to educate myself about communication. We all know that men and women struggle with communication, especially in marriage. These are a few of the things I have learned about communication over the years. Not only are they applicable in marriage but also in any other relationship in life whether it is at work, friendships, family, etc.

One of the first counselors I saw taught me about volume. Whenever Luke and I would try to discuss a hot topic, he would immediately get LOUD and talk over me. In turn, I would get louder than he was and try to make my point. Before you know it, we’re in a yelling match. Coming from my history, yelling does nothing but send me into a shell or send me running. Things would immediately worsen and I would bow out without making my point. By the time I’d cooled down and was ready to talk, I’d forgotten all my good points I wanted to make. So, this counselor said that I should not let things escalate. Start the discussion in my normal tone and HOLD my normal tone throughout. This was a HARD thing for me to gain control of but he explained that if I kept an even tone and Luke began yelling, then I retort with an even tone explaining I just wanted to discuss this topic, Luke would eventually come back down to my level. And if not, explain that we needed to table the discussion until Luke felt he could discuss things civilly. This does work! And we’ve been able to discuss many volatile topics without yelling.

The same counselor talked to me about phrasing and how things you say are perceived by the other party. To begin, he suggest I not begin sentences with “you” and try to avoid using that word if at all possible. Starting a sentence with “you” is immediately perceived by the other party as an accusation, an attack or finger-pointing. For example, “You never put your dishes in the dishwasher.” How would it make you feel being told that? Instead of phrasing things in the “you” form, try to say things as they relate to you personally. How did this problem make you feel? How did this problem upset you? So, in the dishes example, you might say this instead, “Having to put the dishes in the dishwasher makes me feel like I’m a maid.” Or even this, ” When I come home from work and find all the dirty dishes, it upsets me. I work hard too and I need help with things around the house.” Try to steer away from “you” UNLESS it is followed by a positive. “You look beautiful today” or “You are such a great organizer and I appreciate it so much.”

The second part of that initial phrase is use of the word “never”. The words “never” and “always” are exaggerations. If you think about the phrase, “You never put your dishes in the dishwasher.” Is that 100% true? Probably not. Try to take those words out of your expressions. And again, word it in a way that expresses your feelings. Always and Never statements are BEGGING for defensiveness.  They are felt as an attack and will in turn produce a defensive response. Try to phrase things in a way that will be more productive. What are you missing? What do you need?

I am as guilty as the next person of not expressing my needs. I tend to sigh or complain instead of asking for help. A huge part of building a relationship is expressing your needs. On days when I feel overwhelmed, I’m guilty of running around trying to get  everything done while being a grumpy martyr. This is also a very tough one for me. I feel like certain tasks are MY duties and that asking for help is burdening my spouse. But when you get down to it, we married and became one; these are OUR tasks. And there is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. When you ask nicely, generally your spouse will gladly help. For example, I have 4 cats…much to the dismay of my spouse. The cats are MY responsibility. But I have asked him at times to please help me and feed the cats or clean the litter box. Guess what? He’s done it. Delivery is key. Or when I feel overwhelmed with tasks that need to be done immediately, I have asked for help and told him the things I need to get done and he’s picked what he can help with. But he can’t help if he doesn’t know what needs to be done. You cannot assume your spouse knows all the items on your to-do list.

So far, all discussion has been about verbal communication. But speaking is not the only communication method. All people are different and something that is seen as positive affirmation to one person may be meaningless to the next. I read a book by Gary Chapman called The 5 Love Languages. Each person has their own love language. The languages discussed are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. You might be a person that thrives on words of affirmation. “Thank you so  much for doing my laundry today. I appreciate it so much.”  But your spouse may prefer physical touch. My husband and I are great examples. I am all about those affirmation words. I need to know that I’ve done a lot and done it well. He, on the other hand, prefers physical touch…a kiss or a hug when he comes home or even me holding his hand while watching TV. I’m not a touchy, feely person so this is a tough one for me. I need to consciously think about doing something to make him feel loved. It could very well be the same for him. Perhaps he’s not used to praising good works or deeds. We BOTH have to work at this. Constantly. These are things that don’t come naturally to us.

One more fantastic book I’ve read regarding relationships is by Harriet Lerner called The Dance of Intimacy. Wow! What a revelation about relationships of ALL kinds. The things you learn in this book apply to family, work, friends, spouses, etc. I can’t possibly cover all of it here but a great example in my relationship with my spouse is the one of over-functioning vs under-functioning. I’m a classic under-functioner. In other words, when things get stressful, I shut down; I can’t accomplish what needs to be done. Luke. on the other hand, is a classic over-functioner. He will try everything within his means to compensate for my needs…to the point of smothering. You have to understand each other’s needs and not over-step your boundaries. I highly recommend this book to everyone, regardless the type of relationship you’re struggling with. It even makes sense in the mother/daughter or sister/sister relationship. Each person has his/her way of dealing with issues. Neither is right or wrong; you do what works best for you. But it helps to know and understand why people act and react the way they do.

As I think of more, I may add to this. For now, that should be enough. 🙂

 

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