The Art of Communication

Communication. That’s a tough one to learn in relationships. Rather, let me clarify—learning how to communicate in a healthy way is tough to learn. Communication, or lack thereof, can make or break a marriage or relationship. Learning to communicate with my husband, and he with me, in a positive, mutually beneficial way is often a challenge. We have different communication styles, and we frequently butt heads, but, thank God, we have learned what works and what does not.

Here are some things to consider about the way you communicate:

  1. Are you more interested in winning the argument, or in being proven “right,” than you are in resolving the conflict? When we are more concerned with winning an argument, we are more likely to fight dirty and rely on tactics that are manipulative and unfair. Maybe you are right, but what is more important– being right or having a good relationship and finding ways to resolve a conflict in a manner that is beneficial for both parties?
  2. Do you always have to have the last word? If so, why? Is it part of winning the argument? Why not just let the issue go? Sometimes it’s better to bite your tongue than it is to respond. Some people like to have the last word because of their pride. That’s it plain and simple. They would rather keep the conflict stirred up than find peace and a resolution. They may use the last word to insult, accuse, or take some sort of parting jab at the other person. It takes an enormous amount of self-control to refrain from having to have the last word. It takes maturity and a willingness to consider if what you want to say will help or hurt the situation and if it will build up or tear down the other person. A wise person knows when to hold his tongue, but a foolish person likes to keep talking.
  3. Avoid using qualifiers like always, never, every time, all the time, etc. Simply rephrase what you want to say. Instead of using one of those words, use something that is more indicative of reality, such as often, rarely, seldom, frequently, etc. Using qualifiers puts the other person on defensive. Think about it. Does that person really ALWAYS do X? Does that person honestly NEVER do Y? What is your first response when someone accuses you of ALWAYS doing something? Isn’t your response something like, “I do not always do that…”? If you don’t want others to use qualifiers when talking about you, give them the same courtesy.
  4. Do not play the “tit-for-tat” game. For those of you who are not familiar with that phrase, it is when someone says you do X, and then you come back with, “Well, you do Y,” and bring up irrelevant or petty things, or even  dredge up something that was already supposed to be settled; in many cases, it was supposedly settled years or months ago. Focus on the current issue and take responsibility for your part of the situation at that moment.
  5. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. You and your spouse will hurt each other’s feelings; that’s an inevitability. However, if your spouse says something that hurts your feelings, don’t automatically assume he meant to hurt you. Give him the benefit of the doubt. When you feel ready to address it, let him know he hurt your feelings and why. Sometimes we say things in the wrong way and it comes across as insensitive or insulting when that was not the intention. How many times have you been frustrated or sick or rushed and responded in a way that came across as mean or insensitive or harsh, but that wasn’t how you meant it? I love my husband; however, I sometimes say things in a manner that is harsh because I’m frustrated, but I’m not using a harsh tone with the intention of hurting his feelings. He gives me the benefit of the doubt and I do the same for him. I’m NOT saying you should overlook negative patterns of communication or ignore hurtful things. Those things should be addressed, but you need to be careful how to address them.
  6. Do not be disrespectful or scornful in your communication. How many times have you responded with “Whatever!” in a sarcastic tone? I have many times, and I have apologized for it. I get that it can be frustrating when you feel like that person does not understand what you are saying or when that person disagrees with you, but always try to respond in a respectful, courteous manner. The Golden Rule of do to others what you would have them do to you applies to communication, too. If you want others to talk to you with respect and courtesy, talk to them in the same manner.
  7. Don’t disregard or shrug off what someone says because you disagree or don’t like what he is saying. Avoid using phrases like, “Blah, blah, blah” or “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Those phrases are not only disrespectful, they also demonstrate a great deal of immaturity. The other person is just as entitled to his/her opinion as you are to yours. You do not have to agree or like what the other person says to respond maturely and respectfully.
  8. Fight clean. Avoid accusations, insults, sarcasm, name-calling, and saying things you know will put the other person on the defensive. If you would not want someone to say that to you or to say something to you in the way you are saying it, then give that person the same respect and courtesy you desire from him. Own your feelings and clearly, but respectfully, let the other person know how his/her actions or words affected you. You might want to say something like “Your actions (words) really hurt me” and then calmly explain why. Or politely express that you disagree and why you disagree without calling the other person names or hurling accusations or insults.
  9. It’s okay to disagree; in fact, you won’t find anyone who will agree with you 100 percent of the time. The key is learning how to work through disagreements and accepting someone’s disagreement simply as that—disagreement—instead of assuming the person has malevolent or evil motives or taking the disagreement as some sort of personal insult or attack against you.
  10. Understand that there is a difference between making excuses and offering an explanation. An excuse, however, is not always negative and is not necessarily about the person trying to get out of taking responsibility for his/her actions. Some excuses are legitimate. You miss work because you are sick, and you must give your employer a doctor’s excuse. It is not okay, though, for someone to excuse hurtful behavior or bad choices by refusing to accept responsibility. Trying to figure out the cause of something or offering an explanation should not be confused with the negative connotation of making an excuse.

The way you communicate with others says a lot more about you than you realize. If you always assign blame to the other person, accuse others, insult others, etc., then you need to learn more effective and healthy communication skills or you will never have a satisfying relationship. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who consistently fights dirty? I know it is easy to speak out of hurt and other emotions, but one sign of maturity is avoiding doing those things. Speaking out of emotion is rarely wise; it often leads to more conflict. I have learned (am still learning) to go off by myself for a while if I need to calm down and get some perspective. I’ve also learned (along with my husband) that there are certain times of the month when I should avoid talking about heavy subjects because it will almost always lead to an argument. I’ve learned that when I am irritable, tired, or sick, I also need to avoid certain topics or even certain people or situations.

You have to be on guard and take the necessary steps to avoid heading into an argument with others. Sometimes all it takes to be able to resolve a conflict in a mutually beneficial way is to wait until you have had some time to think about things and get yourself under control before talking about it. Sometimes, walking away from a person or from a situation is necessary, too; this is especially true for dealing with people who just like to argue. Walk away…You don’t have to say anything. Just walk away. When that person is ready to talk to you in a calm, courteous, respectful way, then, and only then, should you talk to them. If they start in with what I call drama or they start fighting dirty, then walk away. It takes two people to argue. I’m not saying it’s easy to do these things, but it is worthwhile for the sake of your emotional health.

I do not claim to always do these 10 things, but I do try. I’m learning how to better communicate with my husband, and he is learning how to communicate with me more effectively, and our relationship is reaping the benefits of it. So, I’m just challenging you to check yourself. If any of these tips helps you avoid an argument, isn’t it worth it? Wouldn’t you rather have peace with that person instead of there being drama and needless hostility or antagonism? You cannot control what the other person says or does, but you always have control over what you say and do; so, just work on yourself. If you are anything like me, that is enough work for a lifetime!

Those Pesky “Little” Things

I shared this post on my Facebook page early last year. I saw it today, and it still challenges me.

 

Over the past few weeks, I have been hit hard by “little” things. Little things that don’t really matter but are frustrating, aggravating, disappointing, and a big inconvenience. As my husband has watched me react (yes, react—not respond; there is a big difference), he has admonished with me the Word.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, NIV).

He has also reminded me: “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, KJV), and “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV). He asked me, “Do you love God?” “Yes.” “Are you called according to his purpose?” “Yes.” “Then ALL things work together for your good.” It does not matter how big or small the things are; they all work together for my good as a daughter of the King. Even those pesky little things that drive me crazy…

He has asked me, “When you are hit, what comes out of you?” In other words, when troubles, trials, irritations, annoyances, offenses, and problems come your way, are you responding according to the Spirit of God that lives inside of you, or are you reacting out of the flesh and your emotions? God uses little things just as much as big things to make us more into His image. Sometimes, it may be an aggravating driver who is following too closely. Other times, it may be a person at Walmart who is blocking the aisle and seems oblivious to others who need to get by them. At times, it may be a company who made a mistake and messed up your account, and it becomes a major inconvenience for you. Maybe it is a child who uses your cell phone until the battery is almost dead and she neglects to tell you the battery needs to be charged. Or maybe the same child is listening to music on your phone and does not tell you when a text message comes through. The list is endless, so pick your “little” things.

God uses many different things to chisel us and get the junk out of us and our lives. It is not a pleasant process, but it is necessary if we are to mature in Christ. I will admit that I did not want to hear what my husband has been saying to me, but I NEEDED to hear it. I needed an attitude adjustment; I needed to regain the right perspective. I am thankful for a husband who loves me so much, but loves God even more, that he speaks truth to me and washes me with the word (Ephesians 5:26). I can choose to yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to what God is trying to teach me, or I can fight against Him, hindering the work He is trying to accomplish in me. The choice is always mine to make. God does not force His will on anyone, but there is always blessing in obedience, even though it is often hard to obey.

On the way to my interview this morning, a song by Francesa Battistelli began to play on the radio. I told my husband, “This song is very relevant for me right now.”

So, what are the “little” things that God is using in your life? And, as my husband asked me, “When you’re hit, what comes out of you?” Relevant questions indeed!

Expectations

We all enter marriage with expectations about what marriage is like and what our spouse is like and how our spouse should treat us. Often our expectations are not realistic or achievable. When I married my husband, I had expectations that quickly led me to become disillusioned. I expected him to meet my needs, I expected him to make me happy, I expected our marriage to be wonderful and easy. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I know I am not alone in having such lofty, yet unrealistic, expectations of marriage.

My husband and I recently watched the television show “Married at First Sight.” As we watched the couples adjust to each other and try to live out their vows, we frequently talked about their expectations.

“It shouldn’t be this hard.”

“I want to be happy.”

“I don’t want to get hurt.”

Marriage is by no means easy. It takes work and commitment. It requires that you put aside your feelings and desires and think about the other person. It requires that you make sacrifices. However, marriage is also immensely rewarding and fulfilling, as long as you keep the proper perspective.

Happiness. That’s a common one. Desiring to be happy is not a bad thing in and of itself, but far too many people make being happy a priority. But what if your idea of happiness is not the same as the person’s you are married to? What if having children is part of what would make your spouse happy but not something that would necessarily make you happy? Happiness is relative to the individual. What do you do when the ideas of happiness clash? Who gets to choose? That’s the problem. If more people would go into marriage understanding that the person they are marrying cannot always make them happy and they will not always make the other person happy, perhaps more people would find marriage more satisfying. I have learned in the sixteen years of being married that being content and having peace, feeling comfortable and safe, living life with my best friend by my side, is more valuable than being happy. Those are actually forms of happiness, in some ways. I have had many times in my marriage when I certainly was anything but happy (obviously).

I also understand people not wanting to get hurt. No one desires to be hurt, but you and your spouse will hurt each other. You will disappoint each other. You will anger each other. The only way to avoid getting hurt is to avoid people, which makes marriage an impossibility. The key is learning how to handle the hurt, how to talk about the disappointments, how to express the anger in healthy and positive ways that will strengthen the relationship. And being willing to say “I’m sorry” when you hurt someone.

My husband and I exchanged traditional wedding vows at our wedding, and we meant what we said, and we also gave some thought to the implications of what we were saying. I think for a lot of people vows are just words that go along with the ceremony, and they never stop to carefully consider the extent of the vows.

In sickness or in health: We’ve had more sickness than health. My husband was diagnosed with chronic severe migraines several years ago. There are days when he cannot get out of bed because of the migraines. There are times when the migraines keep him from interacting with me and the children as much as he would like. He has had to give up some hobbies, and he had to retire from a job he loved and had done most of his adult life because it was so physically demanding, and too much physical exertion is a trigger for his migraines. We have to be flexible regarding appointments and activities. We cannot make commitments to definitely do something or be somewhere. It’s hard and wearisome, but it is our life. I’ve learned to try to go with the flow, but its not the ideal situation. None of this is what either of us expected.

For richer or poorer: There was a time during the last couple of years my husband was able to work that we had a high income. We built a house and each of us had new vehicles. After my husband’s health got worse, and he could no longer work, our income was drastically cut. We lost the house we had waited years to build; we lost our vehicles. We lost our land, land that had been in the family for decades. Our life became more complicated, and it certainly was not fun, nor did it make us happy. Again, this is nothing either of us anticipated or expected.

For better or for worse: We’ve had some extremely difficult times. At times, things have seemed to go from bad, to worse, to worst. Adultery is the worse part. Health problems are the worse part. Losing almost everything is the worse part. Despite all the worse parts, though, there is always a silver lining, a glimmer of hope. All the situations, pains, and struggles my husband and I have endured, at times barely  hanging on, have made each of us stronger, and in turn has made our marriage better and stronger. Our faith has also been deepened, and we have experienced God in a myriad of wonderful, miraculous ways. We wouldn’t have chosen any of the things that have happened, but instead of letting these situations make us angry and bitter, we have allowed them to make us better and stronger.

Here’s a piece of wisdom I wish more people would realize before they say “I do.” The wedding will last only a while, but the marriage is supposed to last a lifetime. Therefore, put more of your energy and time into preparing for the marriage than preparing for the wedding. Because once the stars are out of your eyes and reality hits, you learn quickly that marriage is not all you thought it would be. That person gets on your nerves. That person makes you so angry you can’t see straight. That person has annoying habits. And so do you. Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the good things. How your spouse makes you laugh. How hard he works. How diligently she cares for the house and children. It all comes down to perspective.

So in those times when your spouse and your marriage are not meeting your expectations, reflect on your vows and continue to honor them as best you know how. Extend grace and mercy, forgive quickly and often, apologize quickly and often, be kind, be respectful, be compassionate and gentle. You won’t hit the target every time, but never stop trying. You have a lifetime to love and learn.

On a final note, there is a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that made me cry the first time I heard it. It’s called “Go There With You.” When my husband and I married, I had the chorus to that song printed on our napkins. I meant those words sixteen years ago, and I still mean them today. I’ve posted the video for you.

 

On the Other Side

I never thought we would get this far during those 2 horrific years. But, amazingly, and by the wonderful grace of Almighty God, my husband and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary in September. It was a time for us to look back on all the things we have been through. All the ways God has been with us, even when we were at the brink of destruction. All of God’s favor and goodness to us, even when we most certainly did not deserve those things.

The past few years, our marriage has been better than ever. We have reached new depths of intimacy in every area of our relationship. We have rekindled the friendship we lost during his affair. We have shared our hopes and dreams, many of  which have been reborn. There are some things we have shared with each other that are just little glimpses of how well God knows us, the deepest, even the silliest, of our desires. For example, my husband told me that he had always liked my name (my first name) long before he met me. The cool thing is that his first wife was supposed to be named my name, but not long before she was born, her mother and father decided to name her something different. So, that little seemingly insignificant desire my husband had eventually came to pass, even though he had to go through some very hard times to see it fulfilled.

We have had lazy Saturdays where he have cuddled up in bed and watched movies or television and just talked about things, some important, but mostly just getting to know each other better. Those are the times that have really strengthened our relationship. Those are the conversations that have given us glimpses into who each other is and what our marriage can be as we move forward.

One night, my husband and I watched a movie on Amazon. The name of it was “The Song.” It is about a man whose father committed adultery, and it ruined his life and the life of his family. The man’s actions had a profound effect on his son, from whose perspective the story was told, and the son grew up desiring only one thing of God: wisdom. Like Solomon, he asked God for wisdom. I need to add that the narrator quoted parts of the book of Ecclesiastes throughout the movie. The man’s father had been a successful country singer, and the son struggled to overcome his father’s shadow. The son met a beautiful young lady, whom he married. She inspired him to write a song about her. The song catapulted the man to stardom. Unfortunately, success and fame did to the son what it did  to his father. He ended up cheating on his wife. As he pursued all the things Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes, things that we pursue because we think they will fulfill us, those things dismantled and destroyed his life. I won’t tell you the rest of the story. You can watch the movie to see what became of the man and his life.

Needless to say, my husband could definitely identify with man. The movie sparked some conversation between us. One thing my husband revealed to me was that he knew when I told him I forgave him that I would not divorce him. I told him I did not know at that point that I would not divorce him, but he said he just knew. He then told me that he also realized at that point that if he wanted out, if he wanted to marry the other woman, he would have to divorce me, but he knew he could not do that. Although he was in sin, he understood that God would not bless that relationship, not even if he divorced me. Because in God’s eyes, he would still have been in adultery. He knew he could have had no peace in that relationship. He would have been miserable, not necessarily from the other woman, but from knowing deep down that it was wrong.

I am sharing these experiences with you to offer you hope. I do not wish the hell I went through on anyone, and I would not have chosen that path for myself. But, when I see where my marriage is now, how much my husband and I have grown as a couple, how we have grown individually, I can see enormous value in the experience. Painful though it was, it brought good things, but we had to be willing to confront our pain, our anger, deal with our issues, and engage in honest communication. We had to do some very painful work that at times seemed overwhelming and pointless, but it was worth the struggle.
None of us like suffering. We don’t like pain. We don’t like facing the truth. But suffering has a purpose. In those dark times, we learn lessons about ourselves, about life, about God, and those lessons remain with us long after the suffering ends. Those lessons change us; they help shape us. They give us a perspective we would have never had. They are stepping stones to a brighter future, a deeper relationship with God and with each, a better understanding of ourselves. If we are willing to press through. If we refuse to give up. If we are willing to do the work. Growth doesn’t come easily to most of us. Growth and healing cannot come as long as we refuse to be honest, as long as we run from the pain. As a song by Francesca Battistelli says, “The truth is harder than a lie” (from If We’re Honest). But the truth is what we need to acknowledge and embrace if we have any hope for positive change.

So, I am now on the other side of the darkest valley of my life. I’m on the other side of soul-baring, life-altering pain and struggle. I’m on the other side, and it is a wonderful, liberating, beautiful place to be. Some of you, maybe most of you, will not make it to the other side with your marriage intact. But all of you will make it to the other side, whether as single or married. What awaits you on the other side is largely dependent on you–on the choices you make now. On how willing you are to let go of the pain, anger, and disappointment. On how willing you are to forgive those who have hurt and wronged you. What do you want the other side to look like? What can you do to make the other side be a good place for you?

 

How BIG is the box?

Sometimes I look back on what has happened and I wonder how I ever survived. As a Christian, I know in my head that God is in control and that He can take any situation and work it together for my good (Romans 8:28). I’ve witnessed Him do it, yet in my heart, I still struggle sometimes to comprehend how big God is. I mean, Who else could have healed me, restored my marriage, and helped me walk in forgiveness, not to mention helped me let go of all the bitterness, anger, and pain I felt? Who else could have comforted me and given me such deep peace in the midst of such dark circumstances? Who else could have given me the strength to carry on and not give up? Only God can do what was done in my life and in my marriage. I make no apologies for that.

Yet, here I am, 8 years after the fact and I still struggle with keeping God in a box when He wants to totally bust through it. You would think I would never doubt how powerful and awesome God is; I would never question His ability to act on my behalf nor His ability to work miracles, but I do. I too frequently get my eyes off of God and put them on my circumstances, and then I start feeling anxious or worried. I know sometimes God must be shaking His head at me, wondering what it will take for me to trust Him in everything. I know this struggle is not unique to me, though.

I did have a revelation of sorts several weeks ago. I was talking to friend after church one Sunday and we were talking about Romans 8:28. For those of you who do not know that verse, it says: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (NLT). As I quoted this verse, I realized that God not only used that dark situation for my good, He also used it for the good of others, and He keeps using it. The purpose for the circumstances I walked through go far beyond me and my life. God always has a bigger picture in mind. He is always thinking of eternity. I had boxed God in–I realized that He worked all things together for my good, but I had not realized that He was using my trials and struggles to bless others and to help others; to work things together for the good of others. I also boxed God in on how he was using the struggle in my life. To this day, I am still discovering little bits of truth that God deposited in me in those two horrendously long years, and I know I have only begun to scratch the surface. God is telling me that He is so much bigger than I can possibly comprehend. I cannot contain His vastness.

He is the same God that spoke into nothing to create something. He spoke into the darkness and created light. He spoke the universe and everything in it into existence. The same God I often put in a neat little box is the same God that parted the Red Sea for His people to cross; the same God that appeared in fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; the same God who shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was in the lions’ den; the same God who spoke to Moses from a burning bush. I could go on…

The  apostle Paul in Colossians 1:15-17 explains the sovereignty and power of God this way: “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together” (NLT).

In John 1, the apostle John writes: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.
 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:1-5, NLT). 

I say God is a big God, but I ask myself if I really believe that. If I believe that, my life should show it. Am I expecting big things of God? Do I believe He can do the impossible? Do I seek Him and believe He will do all He has promised? Do I expect Him to do miracles? I must ask myself these kinds of questions from time to time; they serve as a reality check. Inevitably, every time I consider these questions, God takes me back to those dark, lonely, painful nights when my husband was with another woman. He reminds me of how He spoke to me, carried me, strengthened me, and answered me. He reminds me that He is just as powerful and able now as He was then. He reminds me of the miracles He did then, of how He did things everyone else (myself included) thought impossible. I once again hear His still, small voice calling out to me, beckoning me to trust Him, to seek Him, to let Him out of the box I have put Him in. It is as if He is telling me to unleash Him, to let Him loose, so He can blow my mind with how awesome He is once again. He is limitless, yet I limit Him far too often. I need to get rid of the box…