I know you think you heard what I said, but I'm not certain you realize that what I said is not really what I think you thought I meant. Say what? Most mis-communications in marriage aren't quite that far off and certainly not humorous. Odds are high that you know of a couple, or perhaps several couples, who have split up because they didn't know how to communicate well together. It seems they can communicate just fine with others -- but not with each other.
So today I'll continue the theme I've been on for the past couple of weeks on what might make for better communication between you and your spouse.
One common reason couples have difficulty communicating well together is it doesn't feel safe to do so. If one or the other feels the communication might go south and have a negative result, neither is likely going to be too excited about entering into the conversation. The speaker-listener technique, which I shared last week, can help to create safety within a conversation. Here's a few more for you to consider.
Some years ago I attended a workshop given by Tom Strohl where he detailed what he termed "Four Ground Rules for Safety." The first such ground rule is "no zingers." If you've known your spouse for any substantial period of time, you are likely quite skilled at being able to push his or her buttons. You likely know just the right words or phrases that can send them into anger faster than a speeding bullet and more be powerful than a locomotive. Well just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should do it. And if you want meaningful communication with your spouse you surely will want to refrain from sending verbal jabs in his or her direction.
Mr. Strohl's second ground rule is to "call a time out." I've written about time-outs in previous columns, and I happily do so again. There will be times in every marriage, every close relationship for that matter, where talking in the moment is just not a good idea. There can be several reasons for this, but a primary one is that one or both are simply too emotional to be able to communicate well.
Time-outs can be verbal or visual signals, but they must be followed with an appointment for when the conversation will take place. In other words, if you determine you are not able to discuss a matter right then, you are obligated to inform the other of when you will be so willing. That way he or she is not left wondering if you rejecting him or her, the relationship, or simply the argument, which is often the case.
Rule No. 3 of Mr. Strohl's four is "no punishment." I must remind you that these rules are intended to help protect and maintain your marriage. If that is not your desire then by all means attack away with everything you've got. Just be sure you're prepared for the likely outcome of a severed, and perhaps, irreparable relationship. If, however, you want the relationship to continue and improve then refraining from exacting a pound of flesh or any sort of revenge/punishment is likely the better way to go.
The fourth and final Ground Rule for Safety is "talk by agreement." This is related to the "time out" rule in that both parties agree to when they should meet and what they should talk about. In this way, neither feels put upon or pressured as each has consented to the conversation. Hopefully, the spouses will also agree to use the speaker-listener technique to ensure the conversation is productive and cordial.
I heard another communication tip recently which is especially helpful in avoiding potentially heated discussions. It comes from the Family Life organization out of Little Rock, Ark., and concerned a couple who often argued over money -- not exactly a rarity in our day. Since they realized that financial conversations typically turned ugly they decided to take 3-inch square Post It notes and write on them "I am not the enemy!" They would then post these notes on their foreheads before entering into the conversation. Silly? Probably so. But effective? Why not try it for yourself and find out?
There are going to be times and topics over which communication will be challenging. My thought is that just about any help is warranted and valuable. So I encourage you to apply the Four Ground Rules for Safety and to consider the "I am not the Enemy!" messages on your foreheads.
On a separate note, you've heard various takes on the expression that the couple that prays together, or plays together stays together. There's likely some truth in those statements. I also believe that the couple that laughs together enjoys their relationship more than those who don't. To that end, may I suggest you consider coming to An Evening of Comedy with Taylor Mason, which will be happening at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the Farmington Civic Center. Mason is a very gifted ventriloquist, pianist and all-around entertaining individual. He likes to say that his humor stays "out of the bedroom and the bathroom" which means you are safe in bringing your children and parents to this event.
Marriage is a challenge, but one which is well worth whatever effort you put into it. Creating safety and having fun I hope you'll agree are two worthwhile pointers to implement in your marriage. I hope to be back next week with more.
Ron Price is the co-founder and executive director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners area. He can be reached at 505-327-7870.