This week was a lot more about communication. Some of the interesting questions she posed to us were:
- Do I pray for the ability to listen and perceive my spouse's ideas and opinions? (I translate this to praying for the ability to really hear and understand not only what he's saying but also the reasoning behind it.)
- Do I keep the big picture in mind? (Do I really need to "win" this battle or can I just be done?) What vision am I working toward? How do I want our marriage to be and am I really working toward that?
- Do I listen with an open mind and with a desire to understand my spouse or do I tune them out or cut them off because "I know" what they are going to say?
- Do I use personal responsibility language to convey my feelings? ("When ________ happens, I feel _______." Instead of "You make me feel ________ when you ________.")
- Do I pick appropriate times to communicate? (Dont dump on each other the minute he walks through the door or while he's watching football or when either of you has already had a stressful day. Dont try to solve something in the middle of a heated situation. Cool off, regroup and maybe discuss it over a quiet dinner.)
- Do I use humor appropriately? Do I use sarcastic humor to make my point but then avoid responsibility by saying "just kidding"? (I've never been big on teasing. I think teasing tears people down. Even little things will build and build until a person's self esteem is compromised. It's fine to use humor to keep things light but not at the expense of any one's feelings.)
- Do I stick to the issue at hand? Do I bring up past issues that have already been resolved? Do I use the words "always" and "never"? Because they simply aren't true. "You never help with the kids" is not going to get you the help you want. "It's so great when you help with the kids. I appreciate it." is much more likely to get him to do it again.
- Am I flexible and willing to compromise? Can I tell my spouse, "On a scale of 1-10, this issue only matters to me about a 7. So if it's more important than that to you then help me understand why." (Brad and I do this in percentages. I'll say, "I only care about that like 30%. And he'll say, "Well then I'll decide" or whatever.)
The big thing is that she says that we have to TAKE ACTION TO COMMUNICATE. We cant expect people to read our minds. We cant expect them to figure out, "She seems angry when I ______ so I guess I'd better ______ instead." She told us that "the genius of communication is the ability to be totally honest and totally kind at the same time". (I've got the honest part down, I just need to soften it up a bit!) Criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling will block communication every time. Compassion, gentleness, a soft approach and willingness to change are the keys to successful communication.
I love her concept of being able to mentally walk away from a situation. Just deciding not to engage in conflict, not to throw fuel on the fire. Brad's good at it but I need to practice... A LOT.
And finally, my favorite story from the class. A woman decided she'd had enough and was ready to leave her husband. She packed her kids and went to her parents' house. Her mom listened to her frustrations and dried her tears and then said, "Take a piece of paper and fold it in half vertically. On the left side, list all of the things that make your husband impossible to live with." Of course it was easy for her to do. She had a list a mile long, right at the top of her head. When she was done writing, her wise mother said, "Now on the right side of the page, I want you to write down how you respond to each of the things you've listed." She was unhappy and even embarrassed to realize that her responses to his undesirable behaviors were things like stewing, pouting, crying, giving him the silent treatment, venting to her sisters, wondering why she had ever married him, etc. Maybe she couldn't change him but she could absolutely change how she responded to him.
I love the knowledge that we are captains of our own destiny. We get to choose how we act and react in every situation. As mothers and wives, we can set the tone for our families through our actions and words. Communication takes practice but is SO worth the effort!