Monday, February 18, 2013

So What!?

6 - Healthy Communication

Even the happiest marriage (not claiming that is us) has frustrations, disagreements, and occasionally all out epic battles.  We've all said mean and hurtful things that we regret; even the most balanced people have at some point in the heat of passion, reacted exclusively on emotions or solely on facts; but happy couples figure out mature and healthy ways to communicate:

Communication Styles to Avoid:
Communication Styles to Consider:
using plates like a Frisbee
swearing like a sailor
slamming doors
crying or yelling
arguing with an audience (especially the kids)
giving the cold shoulder
throwing things (especially punches)

writing lists of pros and cons
holding hands while talking
taking the alternate position (just to see how it goes)
talking in a public place while enjoying a meal
walking / hiking while talking
break from the topic to think (but not for too long)

There are a million books and talk shows and sitcoms that give advice on various communication.  Some people like a straightforward approach, others need calm details, and since this is a bloggette, I’ll try to keep advice to the minimum (ha!) and hopefully things mostly universal:

Never start the conversation when hungry or tired or over-whelmed (or heavily self-medicated).  Regardless of what Hollywood leads us to believe, there are very few situations that MUST have resolution immediately or utter catastrophe will ensue (usually a meteor or plague) and in my experience being hungry, never brings out my most balanced side.  I know that some of you love Paul (personally, not my favorite apostle) and he said "do not to let the sun go down on your wrath..." but Paul wasn't married and sometimes (often times) life looks a whole lot better in the morning after a good night’s sleep.  I think that the spirit is, don’t “sin in your anger”, or go out to the bars and make bad choices and stew all night in the dog house thinking of all of the mean and wrath-ful things you could say; but waking up with a fresh cup of coffee and some yogurt in the soft light of morning sometimes negates all sorts of potential hurt feelings and poor communication.  It is not always what is said (especially when over-tired) but when and how it is said.

Try to get all of the real facts before crying or yelling or throwing things or worrying; marriage is a passionate relationship (ideally) and sometimes that can lead to emotional impulses and over-reaction.  That said, avoid mixing up honesty/facts/truth with cruelty.  It may be true that your spouse is not exactly who you thought you married, but conveying concern over the extra weight into a discussion on the budget is almost never helpful.

Relationships have history, painful history should hopefully not repeat itself, or be brought up repeatedly (in my opinion, if you haven’t found a spouse yet, I recommend finding a candidate with a terrible memory… like borderline Alzheimers.  It is lovely).  If your spouse does have a memory and is continuing to bring up something that happened ions ago, there is a good chance (not absolutely) that your partner does not feel like you are significantly sorry for the hurt that was caused.  So, figure out how to make a real apology and start refilling the love bank.  "sorry!" does not often cut it, especially if said while rolling one's eyes back and walking out the door.  Come up with something original, sincere, and thoughtful:
"Hank, I am truly sorry that I hurt your feelings when I spent my entire work party talking to other people and never introduced you around... I don't know what I was thinking.  I am a knucklehead and I feel just terrible.  In the future, I will not put baby in a corner...  What can I do to help make you know how loved you are?  A backrub?  Dinner out?  My right kidney?  I really am so so so sorry."
There should be no winner or loser in marriage communication.  The goal should be trying to come up with the best over-all decision, rather than MY decision.  That is the benefit of marriage, there are two people with alternate experiences to add to the pool and hopefully help make the best choices for the family.  Partners should give positives and negatives, maybe even play the devil’s advocate, but in the end, nobody should be right or wrong when you are a team.  Most importantly, it is okay to change your mind but it isn't okay to bully or become a door-mat.  As the late great Stephen Covey says, "Win/Win or No Deal"

But in marriage, sometimes the No Deal becomes the default and that is the problem, if all else fails, decide how important of an issue this is to you (and to them) and determine if this really is your hill to die on?  Is this your battle to fight?  Is this the one where you take the backseat?  Do you take one for the team?  Not every issue can be a 10 on the importance scale for both people, and honestly there will almost always be positives and negatives to all decisions, just what road do you as partners / a family think will be most equipped to handle.  Every once in a while, it is a jump ball.  This isn’t the worst thing ever… but in healthy happy marriages; one person is not always the pinch hitter.

In all seriousness, healthy communication doesn’t happen overnight but it is worth figuring out and the sooner the better.  If you are really struggling with this and find yourself avoiding communication entirely because it is never worth making waves or every little thing becomes a fight, it is probably time to read some books or find a mediator or some “mature” married friends to help mentor or a spiritual counselor who can help you to heal and learn how to communicate better in the future.  Although this is day 6, it is probably one of the most important habits of truly happy couples…

And one way to communicate better is through…

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