Our voices were escalating. “Why are you yelling at me?” I yelled (ironically). “I’m not yelling!” He responded, in a loud and frustrated voice that apparently I categorize as a yell, but he doesn’t.
“Why are you so pissed off?”
“Don’t tell me I’m pissed off.”
Back and forth we bickered, with more frustration in our voices than either of us would want to admit. But thank goodness this time it only lasted a couple minutes, because we know we have more communication skills than to let ourselves get caught up in a “conversation” like that.
“What are we doing?” I asked. “Let’s take a deep breath and start over.” Dan suggested. It’s something that is always difficult to do, but always, always worth it.
One of the absolute best things we did for our relationship during marriage prep was to take an 8 hour couple’s communications course together. That along with all that I have learned in therapy, and Dan has learned through psychology and communications classes, we are so grateful for the arsenal of tools we have to work through the inevitable difficulties and disagreements that every couple is bound to have.
I’ve learned that words have an incredible power in our relationships — the power to tear down or build up, to grow hate and resentment or love and peace. They have the power to bring us closer and unite us, or drive a wedge between us. I don’t have all the answers, but if you ever feel stuck in communication with someone you care about, here are the phrases, questions, and words that work for us.
“How can I love you?” or “What do you need from me?”
This question is wonderful because it puts the ball in the other person’s court so that they have the responsibility to communicate what it is they need or want. If I didn’t ask Dan this question when I knew he was having a bad day, or struggling in some way, I would be left guessing and trying to read his mind. Mind-reading should never be relied upon in relationships. Clarity is so much better. Asking the other person to articulate how you can love them takes the burden off you to figure it all out, and it places the responsibility where it needs to be.
“What are you feeling?”
We ask this question instead of making assumptions or instead of asking a yes/no question such as, “are you mad?” Again, if Dan asks me this question, it is my responsibility to be truthful and honest and it helps him understand what is really going on, rather than making an assumption about my emotions and asking me to respond with a yes or no. “What are you feeling?” gives me the chance to go deeper and reveal the many aspects of what is going on in my heart, instead of saying “yes” or “no” to whatever emotion Dan perceived, rightly or wrongly, in my attitude.
“What I heard you say…”
We use this phrase as an active listening aid. After one of us is talking about something important, the other person responds with this phrase and then a recap of what they heard, summarizing what they thought to be the most important bits. If they are right, it feels great to know you’ve been heard and understood. If they’re wrong, it’s a chance to clarify before moving on! If one of us doesn’t remember to say this phrase and recap the conversation, we remind each other, asking, “can you tell me what you heard me say?” Clarity. It’s all about clarity. We have avoided many fights by clarifying what we say and hear from each other. You’d be surprised how often you might walk away from a conversation and take away the wrong points if you don’t clarify!
“I forgive you.”
This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s not. If one of us apologizes for something, we have made it a “relationship rule” that when the other person is ready (it doesn’t have to be immediately), they need to audibly say, “I forgive you.” We are imperfect people in an imperfect relationship and the choice to apologize and offer forgiveness is the healing glue that brings us back together when we experience disagreements or wounds. Hearing the words “I forgive you” is like receiving permission to let go and move on. If you apologize to someone saying, “I’m sorry” and all they say is “it’s okay” … that is not nearly as healing as the active choice to “forgive.” For us, that choice to forgive and the offering of those words makes a big difference.
“I feel (insert emotion), when (state circumstance or action), because (further explain why)…”
Relationships cannot survive without authentic communication to build intimacy and help two people grow closer together and not farther apart over time. We use this “formula” to talk about anything! Joys, hurts, tough situations…etc., we use it for everything. This structure is magic because it helps the person talking articulate and elaborate on the issue. And for the person listening, it helps prevent them from feeling defensive because it starts with an “I feel” statement instead of “you make me feel.” It doesn’t start from blame, it starts from honest facts.
“I trust you and I love you.”
These are the last words Dan and I say to each other every night before we fall asleep. Of course these two truths could be assumed. The man married me, he must love me! Right? Yes, but I need to hear it. We are physical beings who need to hear, touch, and see realities. Hearing that your loved one loves and trusts you every day ingrains in my heart that we are each other’s priority. Love and trust are both choices, and we choose those things every day. The world is against us. There are hundreds of doubts that could come up in our minds about how the other person spends their time, or who they’re texting, or what they think about, or how they feel… but instead of allowing my mind to sow any doubt whatsoever, I choose to trust the man who I know would lay down his life for me. We have proven our love and trust over and over, but the mind can be mean, and the world isn’t friendly to marriage… so we choose love and trust and reiterate them for our hearts and minds and ears every single night, no matter what has transpired throughout the day.
This past weekend we celebrated 6 months of being married! It feels so short and like forever all at the same time. This week it’s also been 2 years since we’ve known each other (in person). I couldn’t be more grateful to have someone who is as committed to healthy communication as I am. And we aren’t the anomaly! Don’t think this is unattainable! I know other people who have chosen to use communication techniques like these and it’s helped them build a solid foundation for their relationships (all relationships). It takes effort, hard work, and setting aside your own pride when you want to make a point with that zinger on the tip of your tongue. The bigger picture is more important; being a team is more important because we are stronger together.
I’m praying for you!
You Are Enough
Don’t ever forget that okay? You are beautiful and precious and deserve good things — and I can’t tell you that enough! Look I even dedicated a side-bar-box-thing to it. God has a plan and a purpose for your life and He died and rose again because He wants to spend forever with you! Okay, read on. Important reminder over.
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Love & Relationships
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11
I needed to hear that if I wanted to have a healthy, happy relationship with a man, I needed to become that kind of person myself.
People are broken and material things and experiences are empty in comparison to the God of universe whose love is bigger and better than anything.
I feel like I should hide the good things of my life away. Keep them in my little apartment and in my heart so they can’t be seen. But “that can’t be healthy” I’ve had to tell myself as I process this conundrum.