Did you hear about the lady who went to an attorney for help in divorcing her husband? The attorney, wanting to know her reasons for getting divorced, asked her if she had grounds. "Oh yes", she replied, "probably two or three acres." Realizing she had misunderstood his question, the attorney asked her if she wanted a divorce because she had a grudge, to which she replied "no, only a carport." Fighting his exasperation, he tried once more and asked if he beat her up. She answered "oh no, I'm always up before him." Finally he just asked her outright "ma'am why do you want to divorce this man?" Her reply? "Because there's just no way I can communicate with him."
I think that's pretty funny and it reminds me that over 90 percent of the couples who come to me for marriage coaching list inability to communicate as the major factor in their troubled relationship. And this should come as no surprise because communication with people in general can be challenging at times. Doesn't it stand to reason that miscommunication will occur with someone in whose company you find yourself a great deal of the time?
It's important to realize that each of us has a deeply felt need to be understood. We've had this drive since infancy and it does not diminish over time. So what happens in so many homes is that people are trying to be understood at the same time. Well if both people are talking, who is listening? And if no one is listening, who is understanding? I think you get my drift. The very simple, though not always easy, remedy is that one person speaks while the other just listens and then you take turns in each role. This technique goes by various titles. The Covey Seven Habits for Highly Effective People course uses the Talking Stick to determine which role each person has at the time. The speaker obviously has the stick. I am so tempted to say "no sticky, no speaky" but that's probably not politically correct, so I will refrain.
The Talking Stick is from Habit Five — Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. This is a wonderful principle for all of life especially, perhaps, marriage. So often in life we make matters a competition and, while this may be fine for sporting events or chess games, it is not a good practice for a marriage. So long as both parties get to be understood, what difference does it make who goes first?
The creators of PREP (the Prevention and Relationship Education Program) use the term "Speaker-Listener Technique" to describe a communication practice which clearly delineates who is speaking and who is listening. Instead of a Talking Stick, they implement the "Floor" principle as in whoever has the floor has the right to speak and be understood.
Gary Smalley, a longtime warrior in the battle to enhance marriage, prefers the title "LUV Talk" instead of Speaker-Listener. LUV stands for Listen, Understand, Validate, and trust me, it is highly validating to be willing to truly listen to your spouse without agreeing, disagreeing or judging in any way.
As I mentioned above, effective communication in marriage is actually fairly simple, yet not always easy. There are many reasons for this, among them the presence of communication filters, where you don't necessarily hear what your spouse is intending to say. Many of us have taken speech classes at some point in our educational career, but how many of us have been trained to listen?
Since most of us can hear with little or no difficulty, we seem to think that listening requires no special effort or attention. In a word, that's just WRONG! Sorry for shouting, but I wanted to make sure you heard me. Our minds are going all the time, and if we don't make a determined effort to focus them they will run wild with distractions. That's where the Talking Stick or Floor card come in. They help to slow things down and keep the focus on the communication at hand rather than on a myriad of other thoughts.
Along with not working on their communication, far too many couples never work on their marriage at all. They put little or no effort into learning how to do it better and so they come to a place where they lose hope that they can ever be a happy couple again. Please don't let this happen to you or to someone you know.
To that end I am pleased to inform you that The Art of Marriage seminar will be held on June 13 and June 14 at the Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Farmington. This program is designed by Family Life and is filled with humor, illustrations, demonstrations and skills to equip couples to navigate the inevitable choppy waters they will face together.
Two of the six sessions covered are the root causes of conflict in marriage and communication, resolving conflict and forgiveness. You can get more information about this marriage enriching seminar by going to www.familylife.com or by calling 505 325-0613. You can also tune in tomorrow evening to TWOgether as ONE (6 p.m. on KLJH 107.1FM) as my guest, former NFL quarterback Jeff Kemp, will be speaking about "The Art of Marriage." This brief, but powerful, class is helping couples across the nation to reconnect and strengthen their marriages. My next guest on the radio, and author of next week's column, will be Pastor Wayne Gayton, who will be hosting the Art of Marriage on June 13 and 14.
Hey, nobody ever said marriage would be easy. Life itself, for that matter, is rarely easy. But I hope you will agree that both are well worth the time, effort and attention you invest to do them well. Attending "The Art of Marriage" class might just prove to be one of the best investments you can make in your marriage and your life.