Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Making It 30+ Years: Our Words and Communication

Jackie and I were sitting in a restaurant not long ago and couldn't help but notice a couple nearby who the whole time barely said one word to each other. They ate their meals and read the paper but this meal was obviously not a time where they were going to bare their souls to each other. I'm not sure they even looked at each other except by accident.

Now to be fair, we didn't know anything about them. They may have wonderful, deep, intimate discussions at other times and agreed long ago to use some of their restaurant time to get caught up on the news.

However, I wonder how many couples really never discuss much of anything of consequence with each other. They're like the two people in the restaurant at least appeared to be - in the same room but not really connecting. Instead they spend time together and with their families but they make no time or effort to talk about what's going on inside each other. And even if they did have time they possibly wouldn't know what to do with it anyway. Other couples may talk more to each other than some but never get any deeper than discussing the days events, the kids' schedules and the relatives' faults.

So how do you have a meaningful, intimate discussion with your spouse (and this applies to other relationships as well) without it turning into an argument? How do you enjoy emotional intimacy as God intended and still speak words of life to one another even when you're unhappy with the other person?

Gary Smalley, author and popular speaker, has identified five levels of communication. Starting with the shallowest to the deepest they are: cliches, facts, opinions, feelings and needs. Cliches have their place. Facts of course are important, even in disagreements. Have you ever had an argument only to find out that one or both of you didn't have all the details straight?

Opinions also have merit but unforunately this is the level where we usually argue and get stuck. For a variety of reasons we believe that we have to win the argument, that we must be right and that we can't come out of this looking bad. Unfortunately those premises are wrong. Nonetheless, we fight to the finish only to have our feelings hurt, our guilt heightened and our problem unsolved.

That's why we need to learn to move into the next two levels of healthy communication: feelings and needs. It sounds like Counseling 101 class, but feelings do matter. Women especially want to know that their husbands understand them, in fact, understanding may be the majority of the issue much of the time. If we men would just listen actively and try to discover what they are feeling we may not need to solve the bigger problem, at least right away!

And men, you care about feelings too. You just don't want to admit it. Deep down we too get hurt, angry, depressed, overwhelmed and confused just like our spouses. We just think that to be manly we must suck it up and never tell. The problem is that most of us tell someone, just not our wives. Who? The guy (or woman) at work, the bar, where we get our hair cut, lots of places. Bad idea.

If we're going to have real intimacy with our spouse and safely guard our emotional well-being we need to be sharing our feelings and being alert to them in our spouse. You don't have to be a counselor to do this. You start by listening and then continue by guessing. Yes, that's right -guessing. "So, it sounds to me like you're pretty angry about all this?" "Hmm, if it were me I would be really overwhelmed right now."

Get the idea? If you're wrong, the other person will tell you. You won't die if you're wrong. I do counseling a lot as part of my ministry and I'm wrong all the time. Remember, every time you're wrong you learn something that helps you become more right.

But the last level of communication is worth going after at some point: needs. This is especially important when you're part of the problem and your spouse (or the other person) has become frustrated in some way with you. After you've nailed down their feeling or feelings, a fair and helpful question would be, "So what do you need from me now or next time that would help you feel less (blank)?"

At this point you're on your way to solving what caused the problem in the first place and hopefully avoiding it in the future. You'll also be sending a message that you really do care about the other person and want things to be different.

And one more thing for today. None of this has to be done while yelling. I like to say, only yell at your spouse when they are in immediate danger. Instead try some new, more effective levels of communicating with your spouse and with others you love. It will take practice but it will be worth it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous! I remember you teaching me this a while back, and I just shared this with a couple last week during a pre-marital session. Thanks!