One of the most annoying cliches in movies, tv shows, and books is when tons and tons of drama could have been avoided if only the characters had communicated with each other. Usually, even the most basic grasp of decent communication would save them from all kinds of chaos. Unfortunately, such could be said for many of our real life relationships.
Communicating well and developing skills are big deals to my husband and me. As I mentioned in my recent post, Four Misconceptions I Had Before Marriage, communication is something we both admit we were not good at during the early portion of our relationship. Mike sat down with me, and we came up with these tips together. We acknowledged to each other that we both have tons of “head knowledge” about communication, but we must make an effort daily to put our knowledge into practice.
So here are our top four tips for better communication.
1. Stay Current.
Take time to deal today's problems today. If you were to take the first three phases of training with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, this tip is something that would be instilled and reinforced in your brain during every session. And for good reason, because this is the hardest suggestions for me to follow.
I have had too many nights in my young marriage lying awake in bed unable to fall asleep because I have so many emotions raging in my head and heart. I know that I should wake my husband and let him help me sort through it all, but I guilt myself into thinking that I shouldn’t because I waited until bedtime to bring them up. Then, eventually, sleep arrives. I wake up the next morning and the problems seem to have faded.
BUT THEY DIDN'T! They're still in there, especially if they involve a marital conflict. It's still in there. The next time your spouse does something, big or small, that bothers you, all the previous issues are likely to come rushing back. Those are blow-up moments that make the current issue look bigger than it really is because you're just now dealing with these past events.
So keep current. The Bible even says in Ephesians 4:26-27, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil." Those verses are so packed with goodness but focus on that sound advice to work through your stuff immediately.
2. Share Feelings Rather Than Facts.
From a young age, we are taught to suppress our emotions, especially the negative ones. We sit down with our loved ones and we tell them only the facts about our day.
My husband comes home and asks me how my day was. I tell him that it was okay and that I worked on inventory for the online shop. I ask him about his day and he says that it was long but good. Then the conversation moves on. Those were not feelings. They were just basic facts.
I don’t tell my husband that I am feeling overwhelmed with pressure to get several more items into the shop because I have convinced myself that it’s the only way it'll be successful. He doesn't know that I am feeling extremely anxious and a little depressed because I am in over my head. He doesn’t tell me that by "long day" he meant he faced several conflicts and challenges and now he's doubting himself a bit as a leader and provider.
Because we didn't share feelings neither of us is aware of the baggage the other is carrying. We have to guess what factors are throwing off each other’s moods and neither of us is prepared to be patient and compassionate with the other. Most likely we'll both be so focused on our own crisis that we won't see the other’s crisis until we collide.
Share your feelings. It's uncomfortable at first. It is worth the effort and it and builds an amazing intimacy. Start by sharing three feelings you had today. Be vulnerable.
3. Eat Dinner Together Every Day With No Distractions
It is so easy to come home from work exhausted, sit down on the couch with dinner and just mindlessly stare at the TV for the next two or three hours. So easy but so potentially destructive.
The TV, cell phones, laptops and computers just suck us in and pull our focus away. So after a whole day apart, we're now home but we still aren't paying attention to each other. Make dinner, the breaking of bread, sacred. No distractions. No devices. Set up the ritual of knowing that every day that we sit down and eat together we give each other our full attention and the opportunity to be vulnerable and share feelings.
For me, this gesture says, “You are important enough to have my attention.” I love that.
4. Work Through Conflict Without Throwing Accusations
When I mentioned this one, Mike's eyes got wide and he said, "Oh yeah. You don't handle being accused very well." Ha ha. This is so true. The fact is, no one does. No one likes being accused of things. When an accusation is hurled at you, you immediately go into fight-or-flight mode. You'll either fight to defend yourself or you'll try to evade and escape the conversation altogether. Neither of those reactions will help you work through the conflict.
When there is a problem go back to number two and attempt to share feelings, not accuse. If my feelings are hurt because I took something Mike has said, I don't tell him about his smart mouth. That is how my emotions and hurt feelings want me to respond because our human nature wants to repay hurt for hurt. Instead, what I should say is, "I got my feelings hurt this morning and I've been replaying it all day in my head." That will go so much further and won't harm your intimacy.
I don't know where you are in your relationships currently but I encourage you to remember there is always room to grow in our communication and conflict resolution skills. Scripture tells us, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Romans 12:18 ESV) That is our goal, isn't it? Peace? I believe these tips if implemented are a few more baby steps toward peace.
As far as it depends on you, keep short records with people. Fight to stay current. Don't let stuff stew. Make sure you are baring your soul and sharing what's happening within you. Go deep. Share feelings. Carve out sacred pockets of regular time for the people in your life that deserve it. Remember you can tell the truth and have confrontation without hurling accusations. Be kind.
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If you guys have tips that you'd like to share with me then leave them in the comments below and we can keep the conversation going! As always, thanks for reading.