I’ve tried the communication model, but it seems no matter what I do, we still end up arguing. Our conversations keep breaking down.
When I bring up a point of disagreement or conflict, it is interpreted as a criticism and is countered with a negative jab at me. I am reminded of when I did this and that and pretty soon we don’t even remember what the current problem is because we are too busy trying to resolve past issues that are not relevant today.
Why isn’t all this communication stuff working?
Like any skill we develop, communication is an aptitude that needs to be practiced over time to gain competence.
But like any habit we put in place, it is easy to get discouraged and we go back to old ways of doing things.
Have you ever had such a conversation with your children or your spouse? You were sure you said what you believed would be easily understood. And yet, that is not what the other person heard.
When we talk to one another, communication is traveling both ways. Messages we send and the messages we hear are colored and often distorted by the filters we have. What sounded clear to us was not heard the same way by another..
Because messages are being loaded on each side of the interaction, by both the speaker and the listener, communication can become unclear and misleading.
Communication is about sharing our thoughts and feelings. It involves some kind of interchange or conversation. We send and receive messages as we talk about our wants and needs.
Many times, however, our conversations with loved ones end up in misunderstandings and ongoing fights or disagreements.
Why can’t she or he listen? Why do we end up struggling to be heard and understood? It’s as though the words we speak aren’t registering or are constantly being misinterpreted.
In today’s world there are so many ways to communicate. Yet, it seems, our every day discussions with loved ones often break down and our exchanges create misunderstanding and division.
Ineffective communication creates on-going irritation and stress. We begin to see the other in less than loving ways. When communication breaks down between those we love, our relationships begin to unravel.
We need people. We need to share ideas and perspectives – our joys and laughter – our pain and sorrows. We need effective communication to solve problems, share different points of view, meet today’s challenges, hear a different narrative and seek understanding.
I just returned from a seven day cruise. Besides the relaxation, new scenery, exciting day trips to never before visited places, I think what I enjoyed as much was meeting and talking to the people who were on this cruise.
We met people from all over the United States and Canada. As we sat for dinner or a glass of wine, we talked and shared about where we lived, places we have traveled, our interests and backgrounds.
Over the course of a week, we would bump into each other at various places on board, laugh and joke and at times shared phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
Most cell phones were turned off since we had entered another country. But we found we didn’t need them except to take pictures.
How fun to talk face to face, see expressions and hear inflections and the tone of messages. Has life become so hectic that we have to go on a cruise to find time to sit, relax and talk with one another for a few minutes? How sad that today’s conversations are often fast sound bites texted to one another.
We hear a lot these days about climate change. Climates have been cyclic for years. Do we influence the weather patterns? I don’t know – and neither do many scientists.
But I do know that we have a huge influence on the climate of our relationships. This is especially important for our marriages.
Years ago Aaron Beck, founder of CBT, helped us understand cognitive distortions, the distorted thinking that gets us into so much trouble. They include All or Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Mental Filtering, and Mind Reading among others.
When we identify and alter these thinking and communication errors, we can change the climate of our relationships.
Let’s take a closer look at these 4 distorted thinking patterns
All or Nothing Thinking
Everything is either black or white. No shades of grey. It is either/or thinking. You are either a saint or a sinner – good guy or bad guy.
This kind of thinking dehumanizes individuals because no one is either all good or all bad. When we have programmed ourselves to see things in such a rigid way, we miss all the wonderful parts of who we are.
There are a lot of books out there to help any marriage that might be in trouble, excellent books that describe how we form attachments, how we love and different love languages we use with our mates.
However, I am particularly biased toward Gottman’s books because of his extensive work with clients and research study on the habits of marriage couples through The Gottman Institute.
While he has written a number of books, two of my favorites are “Couples Communication” and “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”
Each chapter describes one of the principles and includes many user friendly exercises for better understanding and application to your own marriage. Here is his blueprint to make your marriage long-lasting.
The seven important principles according to Gottman
We are communicating every day in some way: with words, or a look, a touch of the hand, a gesture or by our posture. Sometimes it is through notes we write or texting on our phone.
What are we saying and what is being heard?
As I was reviewing some of my notes and former class material on relationships, I came across the following five important communication reminders for parents.
But they’re not just for parents communicating with their children, but also for couples who struggle every day to share and better understand each other. I have rewritten them to include spouses as well as parents and children.
Everything was going so nicely – we were so happy. And then reality stepped in:
there’s not enough money to pay the bills, credit card debts keep piling up, in-laws intrude with all their advise and many visits, and we have to work longer hours to keep our jobs while accomplishing more.
Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more, tempers flaring, anger rising beyond the norm and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy and support.
And the scene is set for even more serious troubles.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.
As I sat with my friend having dinner, I was struck by how many couples were sitting opposite each other engrossed in their cell phones, with only an occasional comment to their partner.
Or they were simply sitting quietly, looking out the window or watching the activity in the restaurant, each deep in their own thoughts with emptiness reflected on their face.
Where was the active engagement in conversation – listening, gesturing, offering points of view, and laughing?
Moments in time
At any moment in time we are offered opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle and connect with each other.
We choose what we do within each moment. We can spend our time on trivial things or purposefully spend time to connect with one another.
Relationships take time to develop and they require conversation, interaction, face to face interaction, listening and then responding. It requires feedback for better understanding, validation and confirmation of feelings. It requires being in the present moment with each other.
“For I will pour water on the thirsty ground and send streams coursing through the parched earth. I will pour my spirit into your descendants and my blessing on your children. They shall sprout like grass on the prairie, like willows alongside creeks.”
There are two trees in my backyard. Their trunks touching, roots entwining, they reach high into the sky, together yet separate. They symbolize the life I shared with my husband.
The love we shared was as deep and connected as the entwining and supporting roots of these two trees. We nurtured each other while allowing the other the independence to grow in their own ways.
The tree that was Le Roy has been cut down, and the love that flowed through those roots that nourished each other now seeps into barren soil.
This was a journal entry I made after the death of my husband that reflected the life we shared. It is included in my new book, From Winter to Spring, currently being edited for publication that gives helpful information to individuals moving from losses to creating a new reality.
We bring to the marriage altar a truckload of expectations, myths, wants and wishes hoping that now I will be loved unconditionally and all my needs will be met. The problem is that the other person is bringing their own bag of history with them.