JUST TALK TO ME
--Talking & Listening for a Happier Marriage
--By Andr & Fay Bustanoby
"BUT I'M SUPPOSED TO BE SUBMISSIVE"
After my lecture on communication in marriage, one woman wanted me to elaborate a bit more on the idea that a wife can be submissive & still speak up. She said, "I've been taught that submission means silence. If I don't like what my husband's doing, I'm supposed to just grin & bear it, & the Lord will give me the strength."
Well, Christ's washing of the disciples' feet stands not only as an example of the attitude believers are to have for each other but also the attitude husbands are to have towards their wives. I have often toyed with the idea of using footwashing in marriage therapy--particularly where the problem is a dominant intense husband who demands that his wife knuckle under his authority.
We are unconditionally accepted by faith in Christ. We have no conditions hanging over our heads that make us feel, "If I'm good enough He will accept me." No! The feeling is this: "Having been accepted by Him as His bride, I want to please Him."
It is in this context of acceptance that husbands & wives grow. We do not behave in order to be accepted. We behave because we are unconditionally accepted. We are secure in our relationship with God--& should be with each other.
The husband is required to provide a climate where this human being called his wife can grow. If submission results in the physical, emotional, & mental deterioration of the wife, then it is not Biblical submission. Husband, does your body crave rest & recreation? Then desire it for her also. Do you like to have your mind stimulated by new projects, by friends & travel? Then desire it for her. Do you like to go out to eat after a hard day of work & relax in a pleasant atmosphere? Then desire it for her. The Christian husband loves his wife as his own body.
Whatever Peter means by the woman being the "weaker vessel," he certainly doesn't mean that she is inferior. I think that this should be understood as having liabilities as a human being that the husband does not have. Here are some of them.
a) Physical limitations.--Women have 50% less brute strength than men. They have smaller lungs, 20% fewer red blood cells & 30% less breathing power. When the working day in British factories, under wartime conditions, was increased from 10 to 12 hours, accidents of women increased 150%, but of men not at all.
b) Physiological.--In functions, women have several very important ones totally lacking in men--menstruation, pregnancy, & lactation. All of these influence behaviour & feelings. She has more & different hormones than a man does. The same gland behaves differently in the two sexes--thus woman's thyroid is larger & more active. These distinctive functions contribute to wide emotional swings--she laughs & cries more easily than man.
c) Psychological.--Males are more aggressive. The sex difference in aggression has been observed in all cultures. Boys are more aggressive both physically & verbally.
NOT SEEING "I" TO "I" (by Andy)
A few days ago Fay & I were preparing to leave our Maryland home for a long weekend at our Virginia home. We are looking forward to the coming of spring, & one of the things we want to do is take our gas-fired outdoor grill to Virginia. It carries a bottle of liquid propane gas (LP), & Fay, being a cautious person, is uneasy about carrying the bottle in the car.
She expressed this concern, so I suggested that since we were taking two cars I drive the one with the LP bottle. But she was just as uneasy with my doing it. The conversation stopped there. I thought, "If I don't take it & she doesn't take it, how will we get it there?" I knew by experience that she wasn't ready to solve the problem then. So I temporarily dropped it.
The next day it snowed, & when I asked Fay what she wanted to do about taking the grill to Virginia, she said that there was snow on the ground, & it would be too much of a hassle to get it into our van.
I said, "I don't mind. It's no trouble."
Fay replied, "I don't want snow tracked in the van. Besides, we can't use it this weekend anyway. Snow is in the forecast again."
I started to do a slow burn. The time wasn't right to talk about it then, but I decided I had to talk about this when we got to Virginia.
"You know," I said, "the thing that bothered me about that discussion was that you gave me all kinds of reasons for not bringing the gas grill. But they were not the real reason. You were just plain nervous about carrying LP in the car."
Fay looked troubled. "You're right. I was afraid, & when I told you, it didn't seem to matter. So I figured I had to come up with better reasons. You're right, they weren't the real reasons, but the real reason wasn't good enough for you."
She then started to cry. "I always feel I have to defend my position when I talk to you."
She was right. In my usual intense way I wanted to bore ahead & get a solution. But Fay was not ready to talk about alternatives or a solution. Though it was painful, I discovered the effect of my intensity on our relationship & how it clashes with Fay's more measured pace. I want a solution now; Fay wants some time to think about it. She tries to buy time for herself by giving me more reasons why she feels as she does.
At the root of our communication problem is our differentness. Good communication can be accomplished by understanding the magnitude of our differentness, respecting it, & accepting it.
WE'RE SO DIFFERENT (by Fay)
When I married Andy I was vaguely aware that I married him because I saw qualities that I didn't have, but I never dreamed we were so different! Consider the following items, which may be typical of you & your spouse:
--What people think. I tend to be more concerned over what people think than Andy.
--Optimism. Andy tends to be more optimistic than I. My pessimism is my protection. It keeps me from rushing into situations that may be uncomfortable or threatening to me.
--Interests & activities. Andy tends to have more interests & activities than I. The unfamiliar tends to make me hold back & be more cautious.
--Physical activity. I am less physically active than Andy. I am content to stay in the house & read, but he gets the jitters if he can't get out & engage in vigorous physical activity.
--Reading. I read a lot of fiction for entertainment. Andy feels he must read to "better his mind," so he tends to stay with non-fiction.
--Climate & temperature. I find it difficult to take extremes in climate & temperature. Humidity, heat, wind, & cold are distressing. Andy has a greater tolerance. This difference contributes to my being an indoor person & he an outdoor person.
--Private versus public. I tend to be a more private person than Andy. I tend to keep to myself what I think, feel, & do. Andy tends to disclose these things to others more than I.
--Following & leading. I prefer to follow. Andy likes to lead.
--Rules. I'm a stickler for rules. For example, I enter at entrance signs & exit at exit signs. Andy will, if it's convenient for him to do so.
--Communication style. I tend to blurt out to Andy how I feel. He tends to play it safe & thinks what he's going to say first & how it will sound.
--Self-expression. I don't feel I can express myself as well as Andy. He also tends to talk louder & is more verbal. This used to intimidate me, but we're getting better at this. I'm talking more; Andy is speaking softer & is less forceful.
--Self-worth. Andy generally feels very good about himself. I feel better about myself than I used to feel. But I still have a way to go.
You cannot communicate if you feel that your differentness is bad & you feel rejected.
Opposites Do Attract: Differentness is not a bad thing so long as it is not as extreme as ours once was. Andy was always the teacher, & I was always the pupil. Andy's way usually prevailed. Being more verbal & forceful, he was able to make his way stick. But I am to blame also. I conspired by giving in. As I have said already, I grew to doubt my own opinions & feelings. The proper mathematics of marriage is 1 + 1 = 3. We are two individuals & a couple. As healthy individuals, we each bring to the marriage something different & unique. Andy & I have found this cardinal principle of communication: My position is not better than but different from my mate's.
ACCEPTANCE: THE BOTTOM LINE (by Andy)
As a highly opinionated person, I have had a great deal of difficulty accepting a person who holds a different point of view than mine. And worse, as a Bible-believing Christian I have used the Bible not only to support my view but also to club the other person into submission. For many years my attitude was, "If God's Word says it, you believe it & do it whether or not you like it."
Someone may ask, "What's wrong with that?" The thing wrong was my attitude. I could not separate the person from his opinion. I could not accept the person if his opinions differed from mine.
Opinionated, dogmatic people are the World's worst at accepting other people as creatures worthy of honour. Christ & the Pharisees illustrate this difference. When Christ ate with publicans & sinners He was not approving of their sinfulness, but He did make them feel accepted as people. Feeling accepted, they were ready to listen to what Jesus said. The Pharisees withdrew from the sinners.
The Importance of Acceptance: One of the skills essential to counselling is an attitude of acceptance that says, "You don't have to agree with me in order for me to accept your worth as a human being & to share my warmth with you." This skill must be learned not only by counsellors but by all who would communicate effectively.
This does not mean that you surrender your own point of view. It means that you care enough about the other person not to bludgeon him into accepting your point of view. This is why it's called nonpossessive warmth. Your warmth toward that person is not conditioned on his agreeing with you.
God's acceptance: The finest example of this is God's attitude of acceptance toward us. The Bible declares that while we were yet sinners God reached out in love & sent His Son to die for our sins (Rom.5:8). He didn't wait for us to agree with Him before He showed His care for us.
George & Ella: George is a devout Christian & a serious student of the Bible. He sought marriage counselling because, according to him, his wife, Ella, was not being a submissive Christian wife. George was rigid & unloving. He was giving Ella the clear message that she was a bad person because she was not submissive to him. When I pointed out to George how harsh & unloving he was, he became indignant. The very idea that I should find anything wrong with him! He wasn't the disobedient one. It was his wife. How dare I suggest that there might be a problem with him?
What was happening here? His regard for his wife was indeed conditional. The only way she would find any positive regard or acceptance from him would be to see things exactly as he did & do exactly as he said. By this attitude, George guaranteed Ella's resistance. She wasn't going to let him completely destroy her self-worth. She just dug in her heels & resisted him with all she had.
By not forcing Ella, George would have found her more willing to give. We often give freely what we do not permit a person to take by force.
Feeling versus Fact: Many couples make the mistake of trying to establish who's right & who's wrong. They attempt to establish what the facts are & the right course of action based on those facts. Now that is reasonable enough--if you are in a court of law with rules of evidence, a judge, jury, lawyers & appeals procedure. But this is unworkable in a marriage. In marital communication we really can't start with the facts!
How many times have you been frustrated in your attempt to communicate on the basis of fact? The wife says, "Now the facts are..." But the husband says, "No, they're not! You have the facts all wrong. The facts are..."
The Real Issues: The real issues are these: 1) How do I feel about this? 2) Are you willing to respect my feelings? 3) How do you feel about this? 4) Am I willing to respect your feelings? Here we get back to the cardinal rule of communication: My position is not better than, but different from, yours. In a court of law we can be interested in facts, but the relationship between husband & wife is different. It is supposed to be a relationship of mutual acceptance & respect. We are not attempting to find out what the facts are. We are trying to discover how each feels. Once we understand where we are in relation to each other we can decide what we want to do about our differences. We are in a position of compromising, or agreeing to disagree. If we can't do either, we can go to court & let someone else decide who's right & who has the facts. That's called divorce!
As a Christian marriage & family counsellor I often find that facts do have a bearing on the cases I handle. And I often must address those facts in the light of Scripture because my authoritative point of view is being sought. But in my relationship with Fay I cannot be the authority. Our relationship is that of husband & wife, & not preacher & parishioner, counsellor & client.
Keep Off the Grass! I was having difficulty getting my boat trailer turned around in order to back into my driveway. So I decided I would pull up a few feet on the lot next to my neighbour's house to make my turn. Fay, who was riding with me, stiffened & asked, "What are you doing?"
"Turning around," I answered.
"On Bill's grass?"
I really didn't think Bill would mind, but I did know that Fay felt that Bill would mind, & she reacted accordingly. So I backed up & made my turn without driving on Bill's grass. It was more difficult, but I was willing to go the more difficult route out of respect for her feelings. Because I love her, her feelings were more important than right or wrong.
The next day, Bill came over & asked, "Why didn't you pull up on the grass to make your turn? It would be easier that way." I must admit I felt smug. And it did cross my mind to tell Fay that I was right! But what would that accomplish, except to identify myself as her adversary & encourage her to start keeping score when she is right? It cost me very little to respect her feelings.
Over the years I had damaged our relationship by always trying to prove I was right. If I told her what Bill had said, it might have sounded as if I couldn't let the matter drop. Given the history of my bad behaviour, it was far better to drop the matter & not appear as though I was trying to prove I was right.
ARE YOU REALLY LISTENING? (by Andy)
Fay & I are getting better at listening to each other. It wasn't always so. We both have had problems listening. The expression on my face & my body language once were very clear signals that I wasn't listening. When Fay would say something I didn't like I'd become fidgety & act as if I were ready to jump in at the first opportunity to give what I wanted to say instead of being attentive to what she was saying.
Fay's style was different. She would withdraw when she didn't like what she heard. I could see the walls going up just by the expression on her face.
Learn to Active-Listen: Every effective communicator must learn the skill of "active-listening." It's called "active" because the listener has a responsibility. He works at grasping what the speaker is saying & attempts to help him express those feelings. This is extremely difficult to do, especially when we hear criticism, or something we disagree with. Our inclination is to tune out or correct what is said. It's foreign to self-preservation to help someone dump a load of painful verbiage on us! But when we do active-listen we convey a clear message of acceptance. Whether or not we agree with what is being said, we convey the message that this person is worth being heard.
How To Active-Listen: We must crawl inside the speaker's skin & see life as he sees it. All effective counsellors have this skill. It's called "accurate empathy." Empathy is a caring attitude that enables us to perceive life the way the speaker perceives it. But it's called accurate empathy in that we perceive it exactly as that other person perceives it. We neither overshoot nor undershoot.
If someone tells you he's depressed, you need to assess the degree. Is it just something passing, does it border on suicidal urge, or is it a chronic problem that has been wearing on him for weeks?
When you accurately touch that person where he is hurting, that in itself is healing. Often I have had clients brighten up at that moment of contact & say, "You're the first person who really has understood where I am!" A marvelous transaction takes place at that moment when the pain & hurt are shared by the accurately empathetic listener.
Many times in marriage, solutions are not necessary. Often, a husband or wife only wants to be heard & understood. Satisfied with that, they will often drop the matter.
We must do several things in active-listening:
1) Listen to both words & feelings. Every message has two components: words & feelings. If we do not tune in to how the feelings qualify the words, we will not have heard accurately. Consider the following:
Husband to wife: "Be sure to have the oil in the car checked every time you get gas."
Now consider it's being said this way:
Husband to wife: "If you keep driving the car without oil, you'll burn out the engine for sure!"
Both of these messages carried essentially the same words: The oil in the car should be checked regularly. But the second message definitely carries a feeling of hostility.
2) Respond to feelings. The second thing we must do is respond to those feelings we hear. And we must do it without attack or defense.
Wife to husband: "I don't know what you're getting huffy about. I usually have the oil checked" (defense). "And anyway, who are you to talk about neglecting the car?" (attack).
The following response would be more constructive:
Wife to husband: "It sounds as if you're irritated over the way I take care of the car."
In the first case, the wife is responding to the feelings of her husband but in a defensive & attacking way. Her response is saying in essence, "You have no right to feel the way you do." Whether or not he should feel that way, he does. And that's what she needs to deal with. The quickest way to deal constructively with negative feelings is to make that person feel heard & understood.
In the second case, the wife is saying, "I hear your irritation, & I want you to know that I'm open to hearing more about it." This may lead to the revelation of lots of other feelings that have been creating a breach between husband & wife.
3) Look for non-verbal cues. We must tune in to all the cues the speaker is giving. What emotion is being revealed by his behaviour & the tone of his voice? Is it anger, nervousness, despair, or what? By tuning in to those cues you sometimes will put the speaker in touch with emotions he may not be aware of. For example you can say, "It sounds as if there's a lot of despair in what you say." It gives the speaker an opportunity to listen to what he's saying.
Ask yourself what the eyes are saying. Are they downcast, darting about, glaring at you, or warm & friendly? The body--what is it saying? Is it tense or relaxed? The inflection of the voice--what mood does it convey? Is it optimism, anxiety, despair, or what? Does the person who is talking mumble or speak up?
The way we present ourselves when we speak carries a message of how we want people to hear us. The hostile person may be conveying the message, "You better treat me right. I can be mean." The docile person may be saying by that behaviour, "Don't hurt me. I'm harmless."
For many years I presented myself as a confident, hard-driving person who was quite immune to having his feelings hurt. The message was, "If you compete with me I'll blow you away. And it doesn't matter how you try to beat me. You can't hurt me." I was really protecting myself by discouraging competition & attack. But when I really did hurt & wanted comfort, no one could believe I really needed it. I made my non-verbal cues of confidence that believable!
4) Give adequate feedback. When we listen we are not to absorb passively. We are to respond in such a way as to let that person know we have accurately heard. Use various forms of feedback:
a) Help me to understand; you mean...
b) It sounds as if...
c) You find it difficult...
d) So you are saying....
Your feedback should reveal empathy. It should match the mood of the speaker. A deadpan, mechanical response does not reveal empathy. Active listening is not a gimmick. You must be able to feel what the speaker feels, & let him know that you feel it in a believable way.
5) Give non-verbal feedback. This aids in creating an atmosphere of acceptance & an attitude of listening:
a) Eye contact
c) Body expression
d) Facial expression
What We Achieve by Active-Listening:
It gives the speaker a feeling of acceptance. It means that you care about him & are able to put yourself in his shoes.
When we active-listen, we help that person to hear himself. I remember once unburdening myself to a friend who was active-listening. I said in angry, bitter tones, "I don't care how they feel!" He replied, "You sound hurt & angry." That was true. I couldn't believe that I actually said I didn't care about them.
When we active-listen we reduce the threat of criticism. It's always difficult to tell someone else what's going on inside you because he might criticise. If you want your spouse to talk, don't make him or her sorry they opened their mouth.
Listening Brings About Change:
This type of caring forms a bond between the speaker & the listener. The listener has not judged the speaker, but rather has helped bear the burden. When this kind of bond is established, the listener is in a much better position to be a positive, changing force in the speaker's life. He is no longer an adversary, but a friend & companion. As such, his life might be a worthwhile model to consider. Remember, listening begets listening.
How To Know When You've Listened:
Understanding what another person is saying is really more difficult than it seems.
Restate what you have heard. The next time you're involved in a lively discussion that seems to be going nowhere, try this. Restate the other person's position to his satisfaction before you proceed to state your own. It must be more than a repetition of words. You should be able to catch the feeling of the words & rephrase them in your own words.
Errors in Active-Listening:
1) Active-listening is inappropriate when other help is needed. When a young mother is distraught trying to diaper a screaming baby & keep her two-year-old off the coffee table at the same time, she doesn't need to be listened to. She needs help!
2) Focusing only on feelings: It is important to listen to feelings. But we must not let the feelings get in the way of hearing why the person feels as he does.
3) Active-listening when you don't have time.
4) Being too interpretive. You may restate what your spouse is feeling, but why he feels that way is really his to discover.
Owning the Problem: We cannot solve our differences in marriage by convincing our spouse that he or she is a bad person in need of reform. God can do that. The Bible can do that. The court system & judges can do that. But in the everyday affairs of husbands & wives, the behaviours that need change are usually not critical enough & are too numerous to require authoritative outside intervention.
Instead of attempting to convince your spouse that he has a problem & is a bad person, perhaps the solution is to own the problem yourself.
An "I" message is a report of the impact of the spouse's behaviour on you. Reporting the problem in terms of where you are & not in terms of your spouse's badness. Often I preface my report with, "Honey, I have a problem."
Why "I" Messages?
1) They show ownership of the problem.
2) They communicate honesty & openness.
3) They communicate to the spouse the effect of the behaviour, which is far less threatening than the suggestion that something is bad about him.
4) They place a responsibility on the spouse for changing & being considerate of others.
5) They demonstrate respect for the spouse & at the same time show that your needs are important too.
6) When you share your feelings, your spouse will be more willing to do so when he has a problem.
7) They tell your spouse how you feel, which is less threatening than accusing him of causing those feelings.
8) They encourage the spouse to help with & share in the problem.
9) They provide a way for the spouse to know the limits of your acceptance.
10) They demonstrate that personal worth is not dependent on performance. Personal worth is not subject to cancellation with every misstep.
A "you" message results in communication breakdown because the use of "you" implies that the other person is wrong & the speaker is right. These include blaming, name-calling, sarcasm, & analysing, to name a few. A "you" message is any message that conveys the idea that I am the normal one, I am right, & you are abnormal, defective, or wrong. Consider the following:
1) Marlene, an attractive young woman is very attentive to your husband at a social event, & he is very responsive to her. You are hurt & angry. When you get home you say, "You certainly made a fool of yourself tonight. You acted as if your brain was addled with Marlene's attention."
2) Your wife has criticised your teen-age son for poor personal hygiene & a messy room. You are unhappy with the way she has handled it, & you say, "You shouldn't talk to Jeff like that. Don't you know that a lot of his behaviour is your fault?"
In these examples, the messages clearly are, "There is something wrong with you." How might you correct these errors? Here are some examples of how the messages might have been handled differently:
"When it seemed as if Marlene was exceptionally attentive tonight & as if she was getting a lot of response, I really felt angry & insecure because another woman was getting what I wanted."
The wife is not accusing. She is only reporting her view. She is being honest about her feelings. She gives the reason for her feelings without an attack on her husband.
"When I heard the conversation with Jeff, I was irritated because of the way it was handled." He is not attacking his wife. He is reporting his negative reaction. He is only saying that it made him irritated.
Summary: Sending effective messages requires that we are careful not to make the listener feel attacked. By giving "I" messages rather than "you" messages we enable the listener to hear what we're saying.
Inventory of Communicating Skills:
Describing behaviour. People communicate verbally & non-verbally. Many times another person's behaviour will be misinterpreted.
One day Fay & I were at Disneyland, & we ran into some people whom I had met at a conference. Fay didn't know them. As they greeted me, I noticed that Fay was silent & moved from my side to a position slightly behind me. It seemed to me that she was hiding behind me & didn't want to be introduced. I also thought that she might resent these friends taking away from our time together. So I made the conversation as short as I could politely, & we moved on.
I noticed she was quiet but didn't think much about it until we got home & I saw that she was still quiet & withdrawn. Something was wrong.
When I asked her about it, she said that she felt hurt. I hadn't introduced her to my friends at Disneyland.
When I described her behaviour & how I interpreted it, she was surprised. She said that she did feel a bit awkward since I knew the people & she didn't, but she did expect an introduction.
What was the problem? I was misinterpreting the behaviour I was seeing. Many times communication breakdown occurs because we incorrectly interpret another person's behaviour. This can be corrected by describing the behaviour & how we interpret it.
For example: "When I see you smile like that, I think that you're happy, & I want to hug you." Or, "When I see that far-away look it seems as if you're not there, & I feel lonely." Or, "When you seem cold & distant, I wonder if something's wrong with our relationship.
Making feeling statements. The "I" message is a statement of our feelings & the reason for those feelings. An "I" message is not an opinion. The listener may argue with your opinions & consider his own opinion just as good . He will resist your moralising, blaming, judging, & condemning. But when you say how you feel without attacking him for creating those feelings, you are most likely to be heard.
Making intention statements: Explain your motives & reasons for your actions. You'll avoid a lot of confusion.
Asking the other to reflect back your message. Give the speaker the feeling that he's really being heard & understood. If you're not sure that you've been listened to, you can ask the other person what he heard you say.
Acknowledging the other person's message. Saying "I heard you," is not acknowledging. We acknowledge when we give sufficient feedback, such as, "I hear you saying that you get mad at me when you're trying to talk to me, & I have my eyes glued to the TV set. The TV seems more important than you."
Checking out. Find out where the other person is in his thoughts, feelings & intentions. When a husband & wife have been away from each other for awhile, they unconsciously check out each other when they meet again.
First, they look for non-verbal clues. Does the expression on the face, the tone of the voice, & the body language indicate that all is well? Or do you detect uneasiness, aloofness, coolness, anger, distress, or a negative feeling of any kind?
Second, you look for verbal clues. What is the person saying? Is the context of what he's saying cheerful & upbeat, or is it negative? When he says these things, what is he thinking & feeling? What are his intentions, based on what he is saying?
Third, does what he is saying & how he is saying it go together? Does he use cheerful words, but reveal non-verbal distress? In such a case, describing behaviour would be a helpful way to "check out."
Roadblocks to good communication.
1) Directing, ordering, commanding, such as, "You must have my breakfast ready by 6 a.m." ("You have to..." "You will...")
2) Warning, threatening, admonishing, such as, "You had better get yourself home directly after work." ("If you don't, then...")
3) Moralising, preaching, obliging, such as, "You should pray more regularly." ("You ought..." "It is your duty..." "It is your responsibility..." "You are required...")
4) Persuading with logic, arguing, instructing, lecturing, such as, "Do you realise that well-bred people simply don't do that?" ("Here is why you are wrong..." "That is not right..." "Yes, but...")
5) Advising, recommending, providing answers or solutions, such as, "What I would do is tell the boss that he was unfair." ("Why don't you..." "Let me suggest..." "It would be best for you...")
6) Evaluating, judging negatively, disapproving, blaming, name-calling, criticising, such as, "You are bad!" ("You are lazy." "You are not thinking straight." "You are acting foolishly.")
7) Diagnosing, psychoanalysing, reading-in, offering insights, interpreting, such as, "What you need is to get your life straight with God!" ("What's wrong with you is..." "You're just trying to get attention." "You don't really mean that." "I know what you need." "Your problem is...")
8) Questioning, probing, cross-examining, prying, interrogating, such as, "Why do you always spend so much time on the phone with George?" ("Who..." "Where..." "What..." "How..." "When...")
9) Diverting, avoiding, by-passing, disagreeing, shifting, silence, such as, "Let's not talk about it now." ("Not at the dinner table." "Forget it." "That reminds me." "We can discuss it later.")
10) Kidding, teasing, making light of, joking, using sarcasm, such as, "Why don't you shoot the boss?" ("When did you read a newspaper last?" "Get up on the wrong side of the bed, did you?" "When did they make you President of the Corporation?")
11) Comparing, such as, "Why can't you be like Martha's husband?" ("When I was a kid...")
AWARENESS: WHAT'S GOING ON INSIDE YOU & ME? (by Fay)
Some sources of information we need to be aware of:
1) Your senses. We have five senses: Touch, smell, sight, taste, & sound. Whenever husbands & wives are together, their senses pick up information about each other.
"I hear your voice growing louder."
"I feel stiffness & distance when I hug you."
"I see a frown on your face."
All of these are undeniable signals our senses pick up. But be careful that you are not quick to interpret what you sense. A lot of times communication goes awry because we interpret what we sense without adequate information. If we hear the voice growing louder, feel stiffness, & see a frown we may interpret that as rejection before we have enough information to do so.
Let's say in this case that a wife is sensing these things in her husband & interprets them as rejection, but the husband is just tired & irritable from a bad day at work & impossible commuter traffic. He has no intention of rejecting his wife. He just wants to be left alone long enough to catch his breath. If his wife is hostile toward him because she interprets rejection, he will feel that her hostility is unjustified. He will probably react with hostility himself. Once the chain reaction starts, it's only a matter of time before there's a big explosion, with accusations flying in all directions.
When you sense something in your spouse that concerns or bothers you, check it out before you interpret what you assume he's thinking, feeling, or intending. This is done by describing what you are sensing.
"Honey, when I hear your voice get louder & see a frown on your face, it makes me feel uneasy because I think I have done something to displease you." He then has a responsibility to tell you what's going on inside him. His day has been difficult, & he just needs time to recover.
2) Your interpretations. However, sometimes we run into problems. The one who had a bad day may have difficulty answering if he really doesn't know what's bothering him. Sometimes your attempts to check out the meaning of certain behaviour will be met with: "Wrong? Why, nothing's wrong." But you know there is. He says nothing's wrong, but he's stiff, distant, & is frowning. His words & actions don't go together. Not everyone who says he wants to communicate really wants to.
3) Your feelings. A problem among Christians is that they don't think they should have feelings such as hurt, anger, & depression, so they block out awareness of them & look for other circumstances on which to hang their feelings. As a result, they never get around to talking about the real issue--how they feel about neglect, rejection, or abandonment.
DENIAL OF FEELINGS
We should not let our feelings run rampant & control our lives. But awareness of how we feel is an important function of our humanity & is essential to communication. Often marriage problems are not due to people being poor Christians. Some problems are due to their not being good human beings--they are unaware of their feelings.
Jesus in His earthly ministry first gave attention to the feelings of people--their hurts--before He sermonised & told them what to do. This is what distinguished His ministry from that of the scribes & Pharisees, who didn't seem to care that people were hurting. Promising relief from the religious burdens of the day, Jesus said that His yoke was easy & His burden light (Mat.11:28-30). This stood in contrast to the terrible load the Pharisees put on the people, a load that they were unwilling to help the people bear (Mat.23:1-4). Feeling Jesus' concern over their hurts, the people were ready to hear what He had to say about the problem of sin.
Looking for Scapegoats. Even when we try to understand why we feel as we do, we still may come up with the wrong reason because we're afraid to face the truth. I sometimes silently blame Andy for making me feel guilty for not dieting & exercising because he's so dedicated to diet & physical fitness. I feel irritated when I see him eat boiled chicken, & I'm eating an ice cream sundae!
No matter how many times he tells me that he's dieting & working out for himself & that it's up to me what I do for myself, I still feel irritated. If he wouldn't diet & exercise, I wouldn't feel guilty! But I know that's unfair to him. This is really something I put on myself.
Because I tend to have feelings of low self-worth, I easily interpret the words & behaviour of other people as a negative commentary on me. And I find that these feelings also are at the root of cutting & unkind things I say.
Opinions & feelings. Many people confuse opinions & feelings. Opinions are intellectual & safe. Feelings can wipe you out. Say for example a husband feels put down & humiliated by his wife because she always puts down what he says. How is he going to deal with that? He may say, "I don't think you ought to talk to me like that!" But that's an opinion she might argue with. She might say, "Why not? You're always saying stupid things." On the other hand, it'd come across better as, "When my ideas are not respected, I feel put down & humiliated." He is talking about feelings that hurt. Many couples never get down to serious communication because they argue over whose opinion is correct rather than care about each other's feelings.
Your intentions. Failure to understand leads to communication breakdown & misunderstanding. Consider this example:
Andy has been jogging & brings home a lot of sweaty dirty clothes. He feels guilty for adding to my already large laundry. With the intention of relieving his guilt & being helpful, he loads up the washer & says to me (for my approval), "I put a load of clothes in the washer." Now maybe I've been feeling guilty for letting the laundry slip. Since I don't know what his intention was, I feel angry because he's acting as though I can't keep up with the laundry, & he has to help. My intention is to get back at him. So I look in the washer & say disgustedly, "When are you going to learn to sort out clothes & not wash everything together?"
The situation is now ripe for disaster. Here the poor man has tried to be helpful, & I cut him down!
Disaster is averted by talking about our feelings & intentions. I discover that his feeling is guilt & his intention is to be helpful, not critical. He discovers that my feeling is anger & that my intention was to defend myself against attack.
Often when an intention is misunderstood it leads to a peculiar kind of discord that I call, "I'm angry because you're angry."
Lack of awareness. Andy doesn't always know what I want because I cover it up so well. I'm really afraid to state what I want because the pain of being turned down is too great a risk. So I play it safe. I try to figure out what others want. Or I try to get others to suggest doing what I want to do. Or I say that it doesn't matter what we do.
I really feel sad when I realise that I've denied my own wishes a lot over the years simply because I've been afraid to make people aware of how I feel & what I want. Rather than risk being turned down, I've kept my mouth shut & have gone along with others.
ISSUES WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT (by Andy)
Marriage & family therapists are often asked, "What are the major issues that people fight over? Are they money, sex, in-laws, child rearing, or what?"
The seven issues below are all related to the husband/wife relationship.
1) Distance. Every couple needs to establish a distance they feel comfortable with. This involves both physical closeness & how much time is spent together. Often, a wife will complain that she doesn't have enough time with her husband. He, on the other hand, may complain that he doesn't have enough time for himself & his interests. And when he tries to take this time, his wife feels rejected. Feeling cut out, she may attempt to narrow the distance by trying to get closer to her husband. He may respond to that move by stepping up his bid for privacy until a vicious cycle of negative reinforcement sets in--each does something to provoke a negative response in the other.
I should not make it sound, however, that the wife is always the close-binding one. In my counselling practice I frequently run into the possessive male whose primary problem is his wife's desire for activity apart from him--both in work & play. He tends to regard her as a possession that ought to stay put at home. And when she doesn't stay put, he feels insecure. He likes all his possessions in their place so he can feel free do to what he wishes.
Discover what the other feels is a comfortable proximity. Propose a change that will work.
2) Power struggle. This issue has to do with who calls the shots in the marriage. Who defines situations? Often, when couples argue over everything & anything, they should consider the possibility that neither can tolerate the idea of giving in to the other. The notable thing about a power struggle is not what a couple argues over. It's that they seem to argue over everything. If there is a possibility for a difference of opinion, they will find it.
In a marriage of equals, there should be a mutual respect & balance where each shares the responsibility of defining the situation. Let me give several examples. Is the husband thoughtless (the wife's definition) or is the wife too sensitive (the husband's definition)? Is their daughter rebellious & disobedient (the wife's definition) or just a normal teenager (the husband's definition)? In reality, both may be wrong, or there may be some truth in the way each defines the situation. But is each willing to explore the other's definition of the situation?
Why do couples engage in power struggles? Often the issue of self-worth is at stake. The feeling is, "If I give in to him (or her), my self-worth will take a crushing blow. I will be admitting that he/she is right & I'm wrong."
3) Trust. Can a couple expose feelings to each other, or otherwise make themselves vulnerable, without fear of being hurt? Couples often refuse to share deep feelings for fear of hurt. The husband who wants sex with his wife may be afraid to ask because he is afraid of being denied. He is afraid to ask because he can't trust her; she gets the impression that he has no sexual need because he doesn't ask! In such a case the issue needs to be identified.
4) Self-Identity. Often romantic ideals are established in courtship, & though they are unreal, each spouse tries to live up to them until the strain becomes unbearable. They then fall into arguing about the things they don't want to do rather than dealing with the real issue--self-identity.
I have seen this tragedy unfold in the homes of ministers & professional men such as doctors & lawyers. A woman loves a man who is planning to go into a very demanding profession. She loves him so much that she convinces herself that she will do anything for his love. If it requires socialising or many hours of separation, which is foreign to her, she may try to fit in with her man in assuming a foreign role of socialiser & strong, independent woman who can make it when her husband isn't around. After the years pass & the electric experience of courtship is a dim memory, she finds herself trapped in a role foreign to her with no way out. Another variation of this problem is when the husband or others impose upon the wife unrealistic expectations that are disappointed because she feels, "This just isn't me." For example, many Army wives are unhappy because they must meet more conditions of sacrifice & isolation than they originally agreed to. The way out is to identify the issues & communicate for a change.
5) Sex. The spouse who wants to avoid sexual encounters may make excuses. The wife, for example, may become very busy with the children, attentive to their needs & home & chauffeuring them unnecessarily, so she can avoid her husband. At night or at other moments when the children are not around she may use the excuse of exhaustion. Whenever I hear a mother angrily justify the amount of time she spends on her children at the exclusion of all else, even her husband, I have a hunch that she's using them to avoid something--or someone. If she's trying to avoid her husband, then that's what they need to talk about.
6) Centricity. Of all the issues I run into in counselling, centricity (self-worth) creates more problems than any other. This issue asks the question, "Am I important?" The husband who seems to have time & energy for everyone & everything other than his wife raises this question in her mind. They may argue endlessly over how he spends his time, money, & energy, but these are not the issues. The issue is that he behaves in such a way as to make his wife feel that she's low on his list of priorities.
The issue to the wife is this: "I don't feel as if I'm important enough for you to want to be with me--either for supper or to do with me the things I like to do."
Husbands aren't the only offenders, however. Wives raise the same question in the minds of the husbands. And the problem may be more difficult to spot when her focus is on good things such as homemaking & mothering.
Some wives are so busy trying to be good homemakers that the husband feels the house is more important than he. One husband told me, "I hate to come home at night. She has spent all day tidying up the house, & when I walk in, if I leave one thing out of place, she nails me. I realise that I should keep my things picked up, but enough is enough. I'm even afraid to get up & go to the bathroom during the night because I'm sure I'll come back & find that she has made the bed.
"And the children--everything is for the children. It doesn't seem to meet what I want. We must be very good parents, ever attentive to the wants & needs of the children. I think she's ruining them, being at their beck & call every moment. All this in the name of being a good parent. Well, she can have her lovely house & her lovely children, but she can count me out. I know when I'm not wanted!"
The sad thing about this case is that the wife in question would not see that the issue was centricity. She was determined that her "selfish" husband would not keep her from being a good mother & homemaker.
7) Territorial Aggression. I'll always remember one couple who instantly resolved a terrible conflict the moment they saw this was the problem. Jim & Linda both worked outside the home, so when Jim had a day off, he thought he'd do something nice for Linda. She always seemed to feel terribly responsible for keeping the kitchen clean & good meals on the table. So he thought he'd share her burden.
The kitchen looked cluttered to him & not very efficient (he's an industrial efficiency expert by profession). He thought it needed rearranging & sprucing up.
He was quite proud of his efforts when he finished several hours later. Linda would be delighted, so he thought, & maybe she'd also appreciate his fixing supper. He prepared a fine supper & timed it perfectly so it would be ready when Linda walked in.
At zero hour, when she walked in, he expected to be smothered with kisses for his thoughtfulness. Instead, Linda did a double-take & gave him a peck on the cheek. She was less than enthusiastic about his arrangement of the kitchen.
Jim figured she must have had a bad day. So he got on with the dinner. She acted strangely when he sat her down & served dinner. Where were the smiles & praises?
As they ate in silence, Jim tried to figure out what was wrong. He soon found out.
Linda (playing with a vegetable on her plate): "What's this?"
Jim (tentatively): "A new recipe for zucchini."
Linda (unenthusiastically): "Oh." (Pushing the zucchini aside & trying a few bits of the roast, she continued): "The roast sure is tough & dry."
That was it! Enough was enough! Jim uncorked! The battle that followed made Hitler's invasion of Poland look like an exercise in human decency. Never did they fight like that!
According to Linda, everything was wrong with the kitchen, & the meal wasn't fit for hogs. And according to Jim, never did he dream that he was married to such an ingrate. Every real & imagined hurt over 15 years of marriage roared down on them like a tornado.
Of course the issue was territorial aggression. Though he was well-meaning, Jim had intruded on Linda's turf.
Our turf has a lot to do with our sense of identity & our role in marriage. When someone trespasses it is a very personal matter.
Linda felt that Jim was implying she was not doing "her job" of homemaking to his satisfaction. In her mind he was saying, "Let me show you how it ought to be done."
This was not Jim's intention. And here is a classic example of a breakdown in communication because of an inadequate understanding of feelings & intentions.
I'm happy to say that they made peace. Understanding that the issue was territorial aggression, they were able to put things in their proper perspective. People who want to make their marriage work usually respond to such insights.
8) Deadly combination of issues. Often, the issues that create problems in marriage are not just single issues. Understanding what we need to talk about can be complicated by a deadly combination of issues, such as power struggle & unrealistic expectations. An example is the story of Hank & Betty: He expected her to give him rubber-stamp approval of everything he did. If he didn't feel like going to work, she was to go along with it. If he wanted her to pick up the children at any hour, day or night, & go off with him wherever he wanted to go, she was to do it. If they were working out in the yard & he wanted a hammer, he felt he should be able to tell her to run down to the tool shed & get it. In fact, that was one of the things that made her decide she wasn't going to let him treat her like his slave. He told her to get him a hammer, & she told him to get it himself!
This resulted in a power struggle. Because of his unrealistic expectations of her (she was to be his obedient slave) she decided that she was going to stand & fight him. The power struggle took the form of her resisting him in every way she knew how. By eliminating the unrealistic expectations they were able to eliminate the need for the power struggle.
Summary: If you get the feeling that you really don't know what the problem seems to be in your communication, stop & see if any of these issues might be the real problem, & if not a single issue, perhaps a combination of them. One way to do this is to write a "State of the Union" message to each other.
"STATE OF THE UNION" MESSAGE
Someone once said, "An unexamined life is hardly worth living." The same may be true of marriage. A "state of the union" message is a non-threatening, no-attacking way in which husbands & wives can tell each other how they feel about their marriage. It is a statement about each of the issues described previously. Alone & separately, the husband & wife meditate on each of the seven issues to determine how each feels about them. These feelings are stated in writing. No accusations or demands are to be made. Questions must be handled carefully. They should express a need for information that may be given in a pow-wow later. This is a prearranged agreement to talk about a specific agenda at a specific time. Sometimes the statements may be positive. Sometimes they will be negative. Sometimes mixed feelings are expressed concerning trends in the marriage.
Couples will find writing their messages less threatening than delivering them face to face. After writing their messages, they should exchange them & read them privately. If anger, hurt, or resentment result from what is read, they should cool off & set a date to talk about it.
Some couples avoid this exercise simply because they are afraid of what they'll find out about their marriage. One woman said, "I have a pretty good marriage. Why should I risk disrupting it with something like this?"
I feel uneasy about that outlook. Couples who are growing together often disrupt the status-quo in order to provide more room for growth. I question how good a marriage is where the couple is unwilling to say how they feel about it. The marriage may be tolerable, but God wants more than a tolerable marriage.
A "state of the union" message may be given periodically (such as quarterly) if the couple agrees to it & will discipline themselves to do it. Or it may be given whenever one or the other feels the need to evaluate the relationship.
Comment on the messages. These messages do not make demands for change but do ask for communication in areas of doubt. Remember, the first thing we're looking for is understanding, not agreement. The state of the union message is an attempt to reveal self & to solicit the revelation of the spouse's innermost thoughts & feelings.
Dealing with a "Threatened Spouse". It's very likely that a husband or wife may feel too threatened to deal with all the issues in the "state of the union" message. Start, then, with the issues that are "safe" to write about. On the issues that are threatening, simply state why they are threatening to write about. For example, they may reveal more about you than you're ready to reveal right now. Or they may be explosive issues. In such a case, talk about why you don't want to reveal yourself. You may be afraid your spouse will hurt or ridicule you. He needs to know. You need to explore why the issue may be explosive. Such discussion can be very productive.
How about talking instead of writing? Sometimes people are not good at putting their ideas on paper. Should they give a verbal "state of the union" message? No, not until they've had a lot of experience in sharing their feelings. Writing & reading is much less threatening than face to face confrontation. If you have trouble writing about your feelings, use a tape recorder. Get away by yourself & start talking. Then have your spouse listen to the tape alone.
A couple with a lot of experience in sharing will eventually give their "state of the union" message verbally & face to face. But for the beginner, a written or taped message is less threatening.
Calling a pow-wow. Calling a pow-wow is a way to build on the understanding begun in the state of the union messages. In a husband/wife pow-wow several guidelines are to be observed.
Whoever calls the pow-wow has a right to set the agenda. Observance of the rule will keep the purpose of the pow-wow from being thwarted.
Timing should be by mutual agreement. No attack or defense is permitted. The purpose is to share information. A minimum of 10 to 15 minutes & a maximum of one hour is reasonable. If the one who calls the pow-wow sees that more time is needed, an extension may be requested. But it should be done with mutual consent, or another time should be set to continue the discussion. In a pow-wow, we are simply looking for clarification of the state of the union message or more information about it.
MAKING IMPACT FOR CHANGE
How do you go about it? You must state in a straightforward & clear way what you would like to see changed, & specifically what changes you want. You are levelling with your spouse. It is done in an understanding & accepting atmosphere & in a non-attacking & non-defensive way.
I see eight steps:
1) Engagement. Ask your spouse if he is willing to talk with you about the specific issue that bothers you. You may say, "Honey, I have a problem with the way we handle our son. Would you be willing to talk with me about it?"
My experience is that more husbands are closed to communication than their wives. They simply avoid talking about anything that might be painful. They tend to keep the discussion superficial.
If your spouse wants to postpone the engagement, fine, but be sure to set a specific day & time to talk.
2) Statement of your problem. State your problem as outlined in the section, "Owning the Problem." For example, the wife may say, "When I tell our son, Mark, that he can't eat anything before supper, & you permit him to do it, I feel angry & frustrated because it seems that I have no parental authority."
3) Feedback to the statement of the problem. Did he understand what you said? Can he repeat it back to you with an understanding attitude?
4) Request for change. In the illustration about Mark & his mother's concern, mother might frame her request this way: "What I would like is for you to respect the rules I lay down for Mark, & if you have a difference of opinion, talk with me privately about it." She is not asking that her word always be law but that they work together as a parental team & not undercut each other.
5) Feedback to the request for change. Does the husband understand what change she is asking for? He should be able to repeat it, although this does not mean that he is agreeing. Before we can have agreement we must have understanding.
6. Response. He must give himself time to think. He may be tempted to say, "I don't think that we can even begin to settle this issue until we talk about your harsh attitude towards Mark." Take one thing at a time. Let's settle this matter first, even if it is to turn down her request & set a date for the next engagement in which they will talk about "her harsh attitude." You cannot rush communication without running the risk of total confusion. One step at a time, please!
Don't fall into bargaining. "If I go along with you on your request, then I expect you to go along with me on my thing." Bargaining is foreign to the spirit of communication in a context of good will. You do it because you care, not for what you are going to get out of it.
7) Rejection or acceptance. The spouse shouldn't argue against the request for change, but rather reject it or accept it with or without conditions. In the illustration of Mark, the husband may say, "I will go along with your directives to Mark so long as we can talk about my difference of opinion the same day." The issue is, "What changes do you need, & am I able to grant them & still be true to my own needs?"
8) Planning on next engagement & closure. No changes should be cast in concrete but should be tentative until it stands the test of time.
The time of the next engagement will depend on how soon you want to get into new issues or how long you want to give the changes you have agreed on a chance to work. The closure is that the agreement is sealed by a physical expression of good-will, like a hug or kiss!
Keep current. Every day we either check out each other or freely share our thoughts, feelings, & intentions. We know what our emotional temperature is each day, & if there are symptoms that something's wrong, we find out what it is.
Don't rush the process. If you rush the process, you may not fully understand your own feelings or your spouse's feelings. Impatience is the enemy of good communication.
Summary: Change is not a "horse trade". It is a decision made in an atmosphere where there is a respect of differentness & a thorough understanding of the change desired, & where there is a desire to change to please self & spouse.
BEWARE OF CRAZYMAKERS (by Andy)
It takes two to communicate. If your spouse really doesn't want to communicate, then your attempts will be thwarted.
What is a crazymaker? Some people are afraid of understanding & being understood simply because they may have to examine their differences honestly & openly. Many people simply don't want to do that. They want their own way. Any communication that threatens to keep them from having their way, or forces them to change, they will sabotage.
This, in short, is what a crazymaker is. He is a communications saboteur. Crazymakers actually sabotage communication by upsetting the composure of those who would try to communicate. The victim of crazymaking leaves the scene with his mind in confusion, actually feeling as if he's going crazy. Crazymaking cannot be accomplished, however, without a willing victim.
Take, for example, the wife who wants to talk about a problem, but whenever she does, her husband explodes. His explosiveness is a crazymaker known as "short fuse". He sabotages communication by making her afraid to bring up subjects he doesn't want to talk about.
If she tries to talk to him about his short fuse, he will blow up about that too. So to avoid the blowup, she avoids talking about anything that disturbs him. She then becomes the willing victim of crazymaking. He sabotages communications by threatening to blow up. She obliges by not saying anything that will cause him to blow up.
Some examples of crazymaking:
The double bind. Take the case of Lori & Jay. They continually fought over his erratic time of arrival home from work. They finally agreed that if he was going to be late he was to call her. But when Jay called, Lori would attack him as an inconsiderate person for not coming home "on time." The net result was that Jay was wrong if he did call, & wrong if he didn't call. Lori was sabotaging communication by making her husband wrong whichever way he went. The issue was not the way Jay handled his erratic schedule. The issue was a double bind, which Lori used to punish her husband & demonstrate that their marriage couldn't be saved.
The set up. This one is used when the crazymaker doesn't want to do something but wants to avoid the responsibility of having to say no. Suppose a man wants to have sexual relations with his wife, but she won't say "No" because she doesn't want to take the responsibility for being unresponsive. She will do something she knows will provoke him, like paying the newspaper boy out of his coin collection. He blows up & is ugly about it. Then she goes for the kill & says that she couldn't possibly be sexually responsive to such an ugly man. She has accomplished her objective. She doesn't have to have sex, or take the blame for refusing her husband. She sets him up to do it for her.
Alcoholics are great at the set up. They make it a habit to blame their drinking on other people, particularly the wife & children. The argument goes, "You'd drink, too, if you were married to the woman I'm married to." If the normal problems in living with his wife don't provide the alcoholic with a reason to excuse his drinking, he'll set her up. He will do or say something outrageous, & when his wife blows up, he has an excuse to retreat to his bottle.
To argue over the coin collection, or whatever the alcoholic may use for the set up, is to miss the real issue. In the example of the coin collection, the husband needs to say in a non-attacking way, "I feel as if I've been set up," & then address the issue of crazymaking rather than the coin collection. Address what went wrong with the communication process.
In dealing with the alcoholic, spouse & children must be aware of the set up & not feel guilty for another drunken episode. I know families that are in constant agony because they try too hard not to drive the alcoholic to drink. They are not driving anyone to drink. Drinking is the alcoholic's responsibility, not the family's.
Derailing: This crazymaker breaks the victim's line of reasoning by switching to a different issue. He will change the subject or distract the victim to break his concentration.
Dave is an example. Even though he had come for counselling with his wife, Della, he didn't want to talk about his feelings. Della freely talked about hers. When I asked Dave to share his feelings about what Della was saying, he talked about her feelings. He was attempting to derail me here by talking about her feelings rather than his own.
I pointed out to Dave that he was derailing me. The subject at hand was his feelings.
Bugging. Anyone who has children knows how they can bug each other. Mimicking, making faces, pushing, grabbing the last cookie on the plate are all childish ways of bugging. But adults bug too.
George & Rachel had only one car. Whenever she wanted the car, George "needed" it for some reason. Rachel was generally an even-tempered person. But whenever George would do this, she became furious.
Why did George do this? He was not a happy person, & it annoyed him that Rachel could communicate so calmly & reasonably. He was annoyed that nothing seemed to bother her. The car was one thing he could use to bug her.
He delighted in seeing how many things he could bug her about. In his thinking, he was "cutting her down to size."
By bugging her, he kept her from communicating calmly & reasonably. And when they couldn't communicate, he was able to do whatever he wanted to do simply "because they couldn't talk about their differences."
Overloading. Norman declared to me that his marriage was beyond repair. Too many things were wrong. His wife, Betty, believed that they could solve their problems if they took them one at a time.
My intuition told me that Norman really didn't want to communicate. Estranged from Betty, he was going his own way, & he seemed to like that. Now this was being threatened by Betty, who was looking for a solution to the estrangement.
After several counselling sessions, Norman became agitated & said, "All right then, if you want to save this marriage, here are some changes that need to be made." He poured out a torrent of demands that could not possibly be filled all at once.
When I pointed this out he gave me a triumphant, "Ah hah! Didn't I tell you this marriage couldn't be saved?"
Betty's consolation was that she understood it was Norman's crazymaking, not her inability to solve their problems, that kept them from saving their marriage.
The Double Whammy. This is constant, intensive attention--like a fixed gaze that emotionally overwhelms the victim. It so rattles him that he can't get his ideas together. Sometimes the look is a threatening one that seems to say, "If you say anything out of the way, you'll be sorry." Dominant husbands use this effectively with submissive wives.
Sometimes the look is disdainful. John was such a person. He almost succeeded in using this on me. He had agreed to counselling only after much pleading by his wife.
He had impressive credentials & socialised with the "greats" around Washington. I found this intimidating enough. But what made matters worse, when he talked to me, he looked as if he were smelling something bad.
I was having a difficult time getting anywhere because I felt intimidated. Finally I realised that he was using his double whammy to sabotage communication. I called this to his attention & said, "Do you smell something bad?" He looked surprised & said, "No." I said, "Whenever you look at me, you curl your lip & distend your nostrils. When you talk I feel as if I'm dirt. I get the distinct impression that you find it distasteful to talk to me." He denied that this was so, but he couldn't keep up the double whammy without my calling his attention to it. After awhile he stopped doing it, & we began to get somewhere.
The Stickler bogs down the process by sticking to the letter of each law. Pete, for example, was guilty of derailing. I caught him at it so many times that he had to admit it & quit it. But then he switched to "the stickler." Every time his wife or I introduced a new topic into the conversation, he accused us of derailing. We had changed the subject. A lengthy conversation followed about the rules. By using the "stickler," he managed to tie us up in long discussions about the rules of communication rather than the problem at hand.
Being Flippant. He has a condescending attitude. He often laughs a great deal or approaches communication with mock sincerity. You must say, "I find it difficult to communicate because I get the impression that you're not taking this matter seriously." If he claims that he is, you might ask him if it's all right for you to point out every time he is flippant, & if he would stop being flippant when you point it out to him.
The Short Fuse. The "short fuse" is that crazymaker who lets you know verbally & non-verbally that he is unhappy & likely to blow up at any moment. This makes the victim proceed carefully so as not to do anything to make "short fuse" blow up.
Sometimes "short fuse" uses the "set up." He will provoke the victim to say something that may hurt or offend him, & then he will blow up when it happens.
HOW TO FIGHT CRAZYMAKERS
Crazymakers are sneaky. Their hostility is always camouflaged so they need not take the blame for any communication disaster. The best way to stop crazymaking is to confront it. When you recognise the pattern, stop & say, "You're crazymaking me!" Then, if you're permitted, describe to the crazymaker what is happening to you.
Only when crazymaking is exposed does it become ineffective. When communication sabotage is taking place & the husband is guilty of it, the wife must be able to call it to his attention.
MANIPULATORS & OTHER NON-COMMUNICATORS
The manipulator cannot communicate effectively because he feels that he will be at a disadvantage if he asks for what he wants honestly & openly. So he goes about getting what he wants by the devious means of controlling people.
He does not trust other people to give him what he needs, so he is dishonest about his needs.
Some manipulators actively try to dominate the weak to get what they want or sometimes they passively play stupid & "underdog" to pull what they want from the unsuspecting "top dogs." Some extract what they want by threat--they make people afraid of them. Finally, some pull what they want from others by making them feel guilty. But typical of all is getting what they want by control rather than by asking for it honestly & openly, which would reveal their thoughts, feelings & intentions.
The fellow-passenger on an airplane who sits with his eyes closed is giving you the message that he doesn't want to talk. Because he is a stranger, no offense is taken. The stranger has made no commitment to you. Therefore if he wants to convey a behavioral message that says he doesn't want to talk, that's his privilege.
In marriage, however, that "message" is offensive. Marriage involves commitment of two people to each other. When the "non-communicator" gives such a behavioral message, he raises a serious question about the marriage commitment. By acting as though he doesn't want to talk, he acts as though no commitment exists--much like the stranger on the airplane.
But the "non-communicator" in marriage tends to go one step further. When he is asked, "Why don't you want to talk to me?" he acts surprised, claims innocence & denies that he doesn't want to talk. He may even go so far as to say, "I never said I didn't want to talk to you."
Whatever his defense, he will deny that his behaviour is communicating the very definite message, "I don't want to talk to you." Or, if he does admit that he's "not very talkative," he will treat it as benign behaviour & act as though you're getting all worked up over nothing. Such a response leads to a dead-end & to frustration.
"I Do Because You Do". Suppose a couple has a marital problem & the husband blames it on his wife's nagging. He says she nags, so he reacts by withdrawing. But she says that's not the way it is. The problem is his withdrawal. He withdraws so she nags.
He sees the sequence of events this way: Nagging & withdrawal, nagging & withdrawal (& so on). She sees the sequence of events this way: Withdrawal & nagging, withdrawal & nagging (& so on). Each is saying, "I do what I do because you do what you do." The best way to intervene is to get each to take the responsibility for his own behaviour. She does not have to respond to his withdrawal by nagging. He does not have to respond to her nagging by withdrawing.
SUMMARY OF COMMUNICATION PRINCIPLES
--Christian husbands & wives must communicate as equals in God's grace.
--Differences are the result of differentness, which is to be respected.
--In any difference of opinion, understanding is to be sought before an attempt is made at agreement.
--Understanding of the other person's point of view is most readily conveyed through "active-listening."
--Respect for the other person & his differences, & yourself & your differences, is most readily conveyed through "I" messages.
--Awareness of what's going on in yourself & your spouse is necessary for effective communication.
--Feelings are important clues to the issues that divide husbands & wives & should be used to guide them to the root issue (or issues).
--A healthy marriage is subject by both spouses to review in which each feels free to give a "state of the union" message whenever necessary.
--Change in a marriage of equals is best facilitated by a clear understanding of what specific change is needed & an agreement to change because you care.
--Change most readily takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect & in a context of good-will.
--It takes two to communicate, therefore communication is impossible with crazymakers, manipulators, & others who try not to communicate.