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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Big FOUR Mistakes in Communication

There are lots of mistakes that we spouses make over the years, some of which are pretty hard to swallow or come back from afterward: forgetting anniversaries, talking about old flames, not offering a compliment and the like.

But psychologist and author John Gottman has identified four of the biggies that we would be wise to know about and seek to avoid if our marriages are going to continue to grow and thrive. I share these with every couple in pre-marital counseling and I think they're worth mentioning to anyone in a marriage these days. In fact, the cautions are worth considering in our parenting or general relationships as well.

The first one is criticism. Ever been around someone who is always critical of you or others? No, I'm not talking about times here and there where we honestly and in love tell another something negative that we believe would truly be helpful. Rather, I'm thinking of persons who have to criticize everything. Your cooking, your looks, your clothing, your opinions are never enough or always in question. Sometimes the criticism is couched in humor but it's very real and hurtful nonetheless.

We all need to be encouraged now and then and no one is always wrong but many people send that message to others all the time. Chances are they feel nervous about their own worth and value but that doesn't help. Don't be your spouse's or child's biggest critic.

Second is defensiveness. Many people respond themselves to every comment by defending themselves rather than hearing the other person out. "Honey, did you get milk on the way home?" "Get milk? I worked until 6:30 and you wanted me to remember milk? What did you do all day?"

Or "You know, last night when you responded the way you did I felt hurt and blamed for everything." "Well, you WERE at fault. You're the one who's supposed to be dealing with the kids when I'm not here. Why are you always trying to get me to take on your responsibilities?"

Do you relate? Are you this way or do you know someone like that? Makes you want to just stay quiet the next time, right? So many people think their value is on the line when someone else is displeased with them. The good news is that it is not. Our worth is found in God who made us. If we're His child then our worth is forever secure. Our spouses, children or friends could never be enough for us anyway. Don't defend - listen and engage. You'll survive.

Third, silence. I used to use this one a lot. Jackie and I would disagree about something early in the day and then I'd leave for work. I'd get home later and would come in, turn on the TV and read the paper. I figured, "Why upset her? Let's just forget about it." I finally figured out that she saw my silence and not dealing with it as a reflection on her, that I must have believed she couldn't handle it. And she was right. I wasn't treating her with respect by being silent. I was protecting myself.

Finally, contempt. This is the worst of the four. It's where one person starts to call the other names, speak in a degrading tone of voice, use profanities and other mean terms and basically devalue the other person through their speech and actions. I worked with a couple once where the man had called his wife a "whore" the week before. That's probably the worst I've ever heard but contempt is often used as a weapon as a final blow to win the battle again their spouse or someone else. It's also pretty lethal to most relationships. Remember, there's no battle to be won. We're to be a team. Remove the destructive words from your speech.

So take inventory and ask yourself whether any or all of these Four Horsemen are evident in your relationships. If so, pray that God will help you change and give you some new terms and ways of relating. If you've made the mistakes, ask forgiveness and start communicating more effectively. If you need help, get it. As I've said often in these posts our words are powerful. Use that power to be loving, truthful and impacting. It will pay huge dividends in the end.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

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