Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Listen to Val's podcast that coincides with this blog post. Episode 23: Overcoming Negative Communication Habits in Your Family & Marriage.
In this episode of the Practically Speaking MOM podcast, Val's husband, Rich, joins her on the show to talk about the negative communication games that they decided to give up in their marriage. They give some pointers for having a communication overhaul in your family. Val also continues her discussion on Learning to Live a Lifestyle of Feasting with the Father when you Feel Like a Frazzled Mama.
We had made a pretty big mess of things
At one point in our marriage, several years ago, my husband, Rich, and I decided to take an honest look at our relationship and make some serious changes! You see, we had made a pretty big mess of things and we didn't want to be miserable anymore. We also faced the hard truth that our children deserved a better marriage example than what we had been giving them. Little did we know, that we were beginning the most wonderful journey of our lives! God was about to restore and renew our relationship and make it better than it had ever been, even in the beginning! God is the Redeemer, the Great Restorer of relationships!
Listen here to our podcast, episode 8, where Rich and I share the first step we made in our marriage transformation - committing to God's design of ONENESS.
While we were learning to surrender our independent, self-protective style of marriage and replacing it with God's ONENESS design instead, one of the areas of change that needed a major overhaul was our COMMUNICATION HABITS.
COMMUNICATION COMMITMENT #1: No Games or Manipulation
There were several games that especially I was playing - different ways that I was manipulative in our relationship.
The Silent Treatment - You know, the "I'm so mad, I'm not going to speak to you. I'm going to completely ignore you and shun you" game. Taking time to calm down and collect our thoughts is healthy when we VERBALIZE that we need to take a little quiet time to do that. In contrast, The Silent Treatment, is where I'm punishing my spouse purposefully, by controlling the conversation with silence. 20 Questions - Along the same lines as the Silent Treatment, I was forcing a game of 20 Questions. It was, the wrong philosophy that went something like this, "If you really loved me, you'd know why I'm mad or hurt right now. So I'm not gonna tell you, you're going to have to figure it out." 20 Questions left my husband stuck in a guessing game, trying to discover what "he had done" to cause me to be upset. Both of those negative communication games were really ways for me to be CONTROLLING in our relationship. I was trying to "hold all the cards" because I felt that he had offended me. I wasn't even considering the possibility that I had also been offensive to him. Communication games that are controlling or manipulative are destructive to a relationship. They don't fix anything, but they do cause more and more separateness.. I had a lot of selfish aspects about me that I had to learn to set aside for the sake of oneness in our marriage.
While I was the main offender in The Silent Treatment and 20 Questions, the next few negative communication games were things we both did.
Keeping Score - Couples play this game with a philosophy of, "I get to zing you with this hurtful comment or I get to hurt you in this way because you hurt me in that way and we've got to keep it even. I can't let you get one up on me as far as the offenses go." The Keeping Score relationship game escalates a disagreement and breaksdown the bond between two people. To break this habit, I started verbalizing how I was feeling, not by making accusations and taking revenge, but humbly and gently using words to describe my feelings or express my thought.. For example, I learned to say, "When you did ___, it made me feel _______. Feeling that way makes me tempted to get upset with you but I don't want to do that. Could we talk about a better way for this scenario to happen next time?" Just verbalizing that I feel like retaliating with unkindness, helped me to choose better. Eventually, this game was no longer a temptation for me.
The Blame Game - One of my great regrets in our early marriage is that I had a tendency to blame my husband for all of our disagreements. I would point out what he was doing wrong in the situation that brought us to the argument. Yet, the truth was, there's plenty of things I was doing wrong too that had produced the conflict. Ultimately, the Blame Game results in someone feeling like a winner and the other person feeling like a loser in the situation. Since no one wants to be a loser, we're always going to keep fighting and keep defending ourselves. What we found out is that, in oneness, if there's a winner and there's a loser, then the real loser is oneness. The marriage loses if one of the players loses. So, we had to give up Keeping Score, the Blame Game, 20 Questions, and the Silent Treatment.
Maybe you have a different set of games in your family and in your marriage. Make some communication commitments that you're ending the games and manipulation and determining that your higher value is ONENESS. COMMUNICATION COMMITMENT #2: Speak Up and Listen
Our spouse needs to know what we're thinking, how we're feeling, what we need. Now, perhaps you're a spouse that is quick to share all of that information, but what about your husband? Does he share these things? Do you give responses that ENCOURAGE HIM to open up or do you respond with negativity about his thoughts or devaluing his ideas? For some personalities, it requires a lot of bravery to speak up. We need to be sure that BOTH people have an honest and open voice in the relationship. Being forthcoming and honest with our spouse really begins by being honest with one's self. As we learn to work on our oneness, it means that we both are speaking up, opening up, and being vulnerable. This requires that we also must both gently RECEIVE the other person's thoughts and feelings and ideas without jumping to attack! I naturally tend to be a controlling person and my husband tends to be a "peace at all cost" person. For us, that resulted in him being quiet when he should speak up, and me being too blunt and vocal when I needed to listen and be supportive. Our natural tendencies were not beneficial to our marriage and we needed to allow God to reshape our behavior.
What is the dynamic in your marriage or in your family? Who is the Squasher -squashing opinions, ideas, and feelings? Who is the Bottler - holding in their opinions, ideas, and feelings?
As my husband became intentional about speaking up and I became more intentional about drawing his thoughts out, asking him questions, valuing his perspective and input, then it produced much better much better ideas and collaboration which resulted in much better decisions in parenting and all other areas as well. Ultimately it created much healthier oneness.
Communication Commitment #3: Choose Vulnerability over Self-Preservation
There's this thing that is really working against your marriage called self-preservation. For my husband, "self-preservation" meant he would hide - hide his thoughts, feelings, opinions, because he felt most comfortable in peace and avoiding conflict or pushback. In me, self-preservation meant I was constantly defending my "rightness." You know, I had an attitude of, "I'm always right and I can prove it to you!"
As we set aside unhealthy self-preservation, then, it meant we took on being vulnerable and transparent. If we're each going to commit to vulnerability, then we each have a responsibility to help our spouse feel comfortable being vulnerable. We each need to be protective of the other person's honesty accountability, and inner thoughts. I need to make sure that I am going to be a safe place, that he can trust me with his vulnerability and that I won't take advantage of that. It's learning to honor one another's heart. It's sharing our heart with the other one and becoming gentle in our responses by defending the other's honor. This was really where we began seeing the beautiful fruit of the relationship grow! It's sacrificial and it's challenging and it takes purpose, but wow, the results and the rewards of that are so much more wonderful than we could've ever imagined! We marvel often about where our marriage has come to and just what a great place it is.
When Your Spouse Isn't Meeting Your Needs CLARIFICATION: In the podcast episode about this I share that I was selfish in pointing out my needs. I should have explained that better. It is right and good to be aware of your own needs and to address those with your spouse. I was doing this in a selfish way - only seeing his shortcomings in our relationship and not appreciating his sacrifices NOR recognizing my own shortcomings. I would hold my needs over his head as a control factor in our relationship. That was selfish and unhealthy of me. We should deal with our own needs AND make sure we are doing all we can for our spouse's needs as well. There's no room for selfishness in a healthy relationship. If my spouse needs to step up in a way that he hasn't been doing so far, I need to communicate that to him lovingly and by asking questions, seeing where he is at on that topic, finding out how I can help him and I get on the same page.
I would like to encourage you to take some time in your marriage and in your family to figure out the communication commitments you need to make? It's an exciting journey, partnering with God in the transformation of your family!