When most couples have struggled long enough in their marriages to decide to seek help in marriage and family therapy, their most frequent complaint in their initial intake interview is problems with communication.
Sometimes, communication is the actual problem. For example, some men are the strong silent type, which has some appeal to some women; however, more women would like their husbands to be very open with them, describing their feelings, vulnerabilities, and intimate emotions about the marriage.
Other times, communication is how other problems are manifest in the marriage. For example, if neither the husband or the wife are listening attentively to the other, then neither feel heard or respected. Both want to be known and understood, and feel hurt and disrespected when their words seem unimportant to their spouses.
A lot of marriages have communication that is out of bounds, like verbal abuse when talking too loudly or contemptuously. Or interrupting when the listener should be patient to hear what the speaker is saying.
If couples state initially their problem is communication, later during their counseling, the communication turns out to be a problem only in certain situations. For example, if he comes home drunk or she spends too much at the casino, the yelling is poor communication, but the bigger problem is the subject of the yelling.
Communication is a skill we were supposed to learn as children, just like we learned to walk and talk, or use manners at the table or in school. Many children don’t learn by what they were taught, but by what they have caught, like hearing their parents screaming and wanting their own way.
Usually during dating, couples enjoy talking to and listening to each other. As the relationship grows, problems naturally occur. To communicate about those problems effectively requires both partners to speak like they would like to be spoken to, and listen like they would like to be heard.
God is a great listener: always available with unlimited time and complete, unconditional love. Husbands and wives lack some of God’s capacity, but can mature as speakers and listeners, like Jesus did with the woman at the well.
For hurting couples, Healthy Counseling Center offers workshops, intensives, and counseling. Please call for more information about getting the help you want; call Jennifer at (509) 466-6632.
Dr. Ray Smith is the most sought-after counselor and relationship coach for physicians in Spokane. After graduating with a Doctor of Ministry from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, he worked with doctors in Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, Spokane, and Memphis, where he earned a second doctorate, in counseling. His background in parish ministry led to pastoral counseling and coaching for Christian MDs and the creation of physicianscoaching.com to help G.P.s and specialists deal with their unique stresses in medicine.
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Imagine…. Three elephants escape from a circus, run down the street into a neighborhood. Each one of the elephants runs into a house.
Couple #1 comes home from work and see the door is busted open, the furniture is smashed, the elephant’s head is in the kitchen eating all the groceries and the back of the elephant is in the bedroom pooping on the bedspread. This couple has a rule at their house: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. The husband looks around & can’t identify anything nice to say about the situation. The wife looks around and sniffs…. she also can’t find anything nice to say. They smile at each other and bear it. He is glad that nothing is said. She is glad it didn’t break out into a fight. And they learn to live with the elephant.
Couple #2 comes home and sees the elephant destroying the kitchen, leaving poop in the bedroom. And their communication goal is to make observations and state their opinions. The husband responds to the situation: “YOU are a stupid idiot for leaving the door open and inviting an elephant to walk in”. The wife defends: “YOU are an even bigger idiot if you can’t see the elephant broke down the door.” He replies, “that is just like you, and your mother.” They have so many problems worse than the elephant that they don’t give it any more attention. And they learn to live around the elephant.
Couple #3 come home and find an elephant has destroyed their front door, eaten their food and made a mess in the bedroom. And their goal is satisfaction. The husband takes inventory and he is not satisfied. He turns to his wife, and says, “Honey, when there is an elephant in the house, I am not happy (I am angry). The door is broken, the food is gone and that bedspread that grandma made us is destroyed. I would like the elephant out of here and everything restored. Would you please call the circus and have them bring a truck and a lot of money?” A couple weeks later, they come home from work and the carpet has been cleaned, the bedspread has been replaced and the door has been repaired. The cupboards were once again full of groceries. And the husband turns to his wife and smiles, “remember when there was an elephant in here? Thanks for making the call to get that taken care of and doing the work to restore the house. I really appreciate that. I feel happy and that meant a lot to me. Would you accept my hug and a kiss?”
When an individual or a couple perceives that something is not right, they have a CHOICE in how to respond to the undesired situation.
- The first couple chose to be passive. They didn’t fight, but the problem remained.
- The second couple chose aggression. They blamed each other and the problem remained.
- The third couple used assertive communication that addressed the issue head on and created a game plan that resolved the issue. Assertive interactions respectfully communicate “This is what I’ve got & this is what I want” without laying blame on anyone else. Spouses that respect and care for one another will respond with a helpful attitude.
Change the way your love works by changing the way you communicate.
Sara has the education and the experience to help individuals and families. She is an ordained pastor, marriage and family therapist, wife and mom to 7 kids. She has the tools that work to prevent and/or repair family issues.