Tag Archive for communication

The Superpower of a Pronoun

When it comes to resolving marital conflicts, pronouns have superpower. At least that’s what a 2009 study published in Psychology and Aging found. In this study, 154 couples engaged in three 15-minute conversations: one conversation focused on the events they experienced during the day, one focused on a topic of marital conflict, and one focused on a pleasant topic. The main focus of the study was the 15-minute conversation using a topic of marital conflict and what personal pronouns the couple used most often during that conversation. The researchers categorized pronouns into pronouns of togetherness (like “we,” “our,” and “us”) and pronouns of separateness (like “I”, “me,” and “your”).  The results? Pronouns emphasizing “togetherness” had a superpower in the conflict conversation. Specifically, couples who used pronouns like “we” “our”, and “us” showed less stress and behaved more positively toward one another than those using “separateness” pronouns. And those using “separateness” pronouns reported being less happy in their marriages.

Of course, thinking in terms of “togetherness” is not the norm in our individualistic society, a society which focuses on “me” and “mine.”  So, it may take a little work to set your mind on the “we” of your marriage rather than the “I” of yourself.  (You can learn how in The Blessing of the Royal We.) As you learn to think in terms of “togetherness, using especially in the midst of conflict, you will experience less stress in your marriage and a better marital relationship.  As a co-author of this study said,” Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a ‘we’ is well worth giving up a bit of ‘me.’”

Preventing Intimacy Drift in Your Marriage

We all desire intimacy, especially with our spouses. Growing the type of intimacy we desire begins when we plant and nurture the seed of self-disclosure. In fact, without self-disclosure we will never move from acquaintance to the deeper intimacy of marriage.  Unfortunately, long-term relationships, like marriage, can experience a decrease in self-disclosure as each spouse drifts away from the other. But I have good news. We can prevent our marriages from drifting apart by nurturing the seed of self-disclosure, creating an environment that will allow it to grow and bring greater marital intimacy. Here are four ways you can nurture the seed of self-disclosure in your marriage.

  • Create daily, routine opportunities to meet and talk with your spouse. Set aside 22 minutes after work, before work, or in the evening to talk with your spouse about your day. Make this a time of conversation an opportunity to dream together, admire one another, and express gratitude to one another. You may also set aside a routine time to meet with your spouse for the purpose of resolving differences, planning, or solving marital struggles. Make this time different than the 22 minutes set aside to share your lives. For these problem-solving meetings, develop a routine way to inform one another of the need to meet. This could be as simple as asking, “Can we talk tonight?” or more symbolic like lighting a certain candle.  Just choose something that will signal the need to come together for a loving opportunity to resolve a disagreement or plan ahead. In doing so, you will nurture the seed of self-disclosure and grow greater intimacy.
  • Laugh with your spouse. Have fun together. Studies indicate that people who laugh together are more likely to disclose personal information to one another. In other words, laughing together sets the stage for more self-disclosure and more self-disclosure leads to greater intimacy…and it all begins with laughing.
  • Share hopes and fears, but also simple preferences. We enhance intimacy by disclosing simple things about ourselves as well as by sharing the more vulnerable disclosures of deep conversations. Disclosing simple things like music preferences, food preferences, thoughts about a book you’re reading, or various news stories can lay the groundwork for disclosing deeper hopes and fears. Don’t be fooled into thinking you already know your spouse’s simple preferences. People change; so, keep sharing your simple preferences as well as your deeper hopes, fears, and opinions. In doing so, you nurture the seed of self-disclosure to grow deeper intimacy.
  • Listen to understand your spouse rather than to simply hear. Hearing your spouse’s words enough to repeat is merely parroting them. All of us want more than that from our spouse. We want our words, our intent, and our motives to be understood. When we feel understood, we feel valued by the one who invested their time and energy to know us better. We know we are in a safe place, a place where we can plant another seed of self-disclosure and grow the fruit of greater intimacy.

Don’t let intimacy drift rob you of your marriage. Nurture the seed of self-disclosure with these four actions and enjoy the fruits of greater intimacy in your marriage.

The Attitude Needed for Communication in Marriage

Communication is crucial to a healthy marriage. Everyone knows that, right? We teach couples to communicate—to listen well and take turns explaining their point of view when a conflict arises. All well and good…until you have a real disagreement and give in to the temptation of making your goal to convince your spouse of the superiority of your point of view. With that goal in mind, you practice repeating what your spouse says so they know you “understand” their point of view (at least well enough to blow it out of the water). You “wait” (however impatiently) for your turn to talk. You maintain eye contact and stay calm (most likely with an air of condescension). You word your point of view in a way that your spouse will understand (or are they just stupid?). But something is missing. You never reach resolution. You both grow more frustrated and even angry. Why is it not working? Because you started with the wrong goal and, as a result, you are missing at least three important ingredients.

  1. Humility. Effective communication is undergirded by humble listening. Good listeners humble themselves by setting aside their own agendas and listening to their spouse with the sole purpose of understanding their point of view. They do not have to prove the superiority of their own opinion. They do not listen for flaws in their spouse’s reasoning or ammunition to bolster their own argument. They listen to understand. They listen until they can appreciate their spouse’s perspective based on their knowledge and perception. In humility they acknowledge the sense of their spouse’s perspective. Humility is an essential ingredient for effective communication in marriage.
  2. Respect. Effective communication is premised upon mutual respect. Both spouses respectfully believe the other has a valid viewpoint. They trust their spouse’s intelligence and ability to develop and grow. They respect their spouse’s knowledge and intelligence. They model that respect by listening intently, speaking politely, and disagreeing with love.
  3. Curiosity. Effective communication assumes curiosity. To learn demands curiosity. To learn about your spouse’s perspectives and ideas starts with being curious. Remember, communication is an opportunity to “grow” something new—a new relationship, a new level of intimacy, a new knowledge. “Growing” something new assumes a curiosity about what will grow from this interaction, a curiosity that nurtures the growth of something new. Effective communication means each spouse is more invested in learning about their spouse than in making themselves known. They are more curious to know their spouse than they are demanding to be known.

If you want a really healthy marriage, add these three ingredients into your life and communication. Get curious about your spouse and humbly listen to learn more about them…and do it respectfully. When you do, you’ll discover a greater goal of communication as well. The goal is not to pass on information or convince someone of “my” ideas. The goal is to connect and grow together.

An Amazing Moment of Creating Power

There are moments that hold great power in your marriage and family. One moment in particular holds amazing power for your family. This moment occurs multiple times throughout your day. It happens when you are preparing your breakfast and your spouse or your child walks into the kitchen. It arises when your child bursts through the door upon returning home from school. It occurs when your spouse returns home from work or grocery shopping or working in the yard and walks into the room where you sit. Have you identified this powerful moment yet? It is a moment of greeting, of reuniting.

The moment of greeting is a powerful moment. A simple greeting starts the process of interaction. When we greet our spouse or children, we have opened the door to creating an experience together. We have created the opportunity for connection. This opportunity for connection grows as we continue the interaction and shapes the whole environment of our home.

Consider this study, published in January 2007 , that looked at emails in two organizations. One organization was struggling with conflict, low morale, and turnover. Their emails were short and simply offered information. They did not even include a simple greeting of “Hi” plus the person’s name. The email sent the implicit message of business is top priority and people are secondary.

The other company had a “very positive culture.” Their emails included greetings, a “widespread use” of “Hello” plus the person’s name. It seemed to communicate that people mattered and staff was valued.

We want to build a family environment that communicates value to each family member. We want our family to know they matter; that we value them. Communicating this important message begins with a greeting.

“Hi, how are you doing?”
“Hey, how’s the yard work going?”
“Look at you. What has you so excited?” “Hello. How was work?”

You pick the question and the greeting. Whatever greeting you choose, that greeting opens the door for connection. And as you both follow the question with a conversation, you create relationship by getting to know one another better.

Would you like to build a deeper connection with your spouse? Maintain a connection with your teen? Enjoy connection with your family? It all begins with that amazing moment of creative power—the moment of greeting.

Caring for the Gift of Your Marriage

Your spouse and your marriage represent two of the most precious gifts you can ever receive. I know this is true for me. They are wonderful gifts. When we take care of these two gifts, they bring us a lifetime of joy. But, if we neglect or abuse these gifts, they result in a lifetime of pain. So how do we take care of these precious gifts? Many things come to mind, but here are a dozen things you can do every day to take care of these two gifts.

  1. Tell your spouse what you need. Your spouse is not a mind reader. Don’t expect them to read your mind and then get angry because they can’t do it. Politely, lovingly tell them what you need.
  2. Take your spouse’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities seriously. This means you becoming a student of your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s sensitivities. They often stem from life experiences. Do not make light of those sensitivities. Do not use them against your spouse. Instead, acknowledge them. Respect them. Treat your spouse with care, keeping their vulnerabilities and sensitivities in mind.
  3. Make it a habit to express adoration and admiration to your spouse every day. Say “I love you” every day. Look for opportunities to not only recognize traits you love about your spouse but to tell them what you love about them every day. Share physical affection—a hug, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands, a touch on the arm—with your spouse daily. Appreciate your spouse every day.
  4. Recognize and express gratitude to your spouse every day. Once again, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for the daily, multiple things they do for you, your family, and your home.
  5. Take responsibility for any mistakes you make. We all make mistakes. We say hurtful things. We forget to complete tasks. Take responsibility. Admit your mistake. Then “bear the fruit” of repentance. Your spouse will love you for it.
  6. Treat your spouse with respect and dignity in your words and actions. Speak with kindness. Engage in polite deeds toward your spouse. Serve your spouse.  
  7. Support and encourage your spouse’s dreams. Once again, this means becoming a student of your spouse to learn about their dreams and how you can support those dreams.
  8. Share emotions with your spouse. Weep with your spouse when they weep. Rejoice with your spouse when they rejoice. Take time to share in their emotions. And, have the courage to express your deep emotions to your spouse so they can share in your emotions as well. 
  9. Set boundaries to protect your marriage. Remain faithful. Do not let people, work, children, or even volunteering come between you and your spouse.
  10. Pursue peace. Strive to create a peaceful, relaxed home for your family.
  11. Encourage your spouse and build them up. Compliment your spouse. Acknowledge their strengths as well as those things they do in the home and community.
  12. Turn toward your spouse when problems arise. Turn toward your spouse for times of joy. Turn toward your spouse simply to connect in everyday life. Turn toward your partner and work as a team to navigate the complexities of life.  

Yes, marriage is a gift. Your spouse is a gift. Treat both with care and love. When you do, you will experience a lifetime of joy.

For Your Marriage’s Sake, Get Serious About Play

If you want a long and happy marriage, you may want to get serious about play. A sober review of the research on playfulness offered a thoughtful reminder of play’s far-reaching effect, what did this review reveal?

  • Playing as a couple facilitates the experience of positive emotions. Sharing positive emotions enhances relationship satisfaction.
  • Play also influences how couples communicate. Specifically, play helps couples communicate in ways that better deal with stress and resolve tension. This, in turn, can build trust.
  • Play strengthens intimacy and connection. Some suggest playfulness even serves as a positive ingredient of a satisfying sex life. What married couple doesn’t want that?

As you can see, play serves a crucial role in building a long and happy marriage. So, here is the prescription you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy a healthier marriage and have fun doing it.  Get serious about play. Grab your spouse and have some fun. Seriously, go PLAY for a better marriage.

Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage?

I heard an interesting quote the other day: “Expectation is premeditated resentment.” Consider the truth of that statement for a moment. When our spouses do not meet our expectations, we become angry. That anger, if left unresolved, combines with continued unmet expectations to grow into resentment. That resentment will destroy our marriages.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we have no expectations in marriage. After all, not all expectations are unreasonable or negative. At the very least we all generally hold the expectation that our spouse will remain faithful and committed to us. But even positive expectations, when not handled wisely, can lead to resentment. So how do we make sure our expectations are not “premeditated resentments”? Here are 3 steps.

  • Make sure your expectations are reasonable. Sometimes we enter marriage with unreasonable expectations learned from past dating relationships, our family of origin, or even movies we enjoyed as children. A few examples of unreasonable expectations include:
    • “My spouse will make me happy all the time.”
    • “Marriage means I can have sex anytime I want it.”
    • “My spouse thinks about money the same way I do.”
    • “My spouse will always do the activities I like.”
    • Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman can help you explore some potentially unrealistic expectations. Even if you are married, you can find this book a great discussion starter.
  • Make your expectations known to your spouse. Talk about your expectations with one another. This can help assure they are reasonable as well as making sure you & your spouse understand one another’s expectations. Use the information in Expectations, Skills, and a Happy Marriage to start the conversation of expectations in your marriage.
  • Negotiate and compromise to reach an agreement regarding expectations. You and your spouse will agree on many expectations.  Sometimes, however, you and your spouse may disagree about an expectation. When this disagreement becomes known, talk about it. Ask: What makes this expectation important to you or your spouse? What does my spouse not agree with? Negotiate and compromise. Remember, part of an effective compromise is keeping in mind your desire to add joy to your spouse’s life. Come to an agreement you can both live with.

When you follow these three steps, expectations are not “premeditated resentment.” Instead, expectations are an opportunity to grow more intimate with your spouse by knowing him or her more deeply. They become an opportunity to express the depth of your love for your spouse by meeting their expectations.

Your Actions…Your Marriage

Your actions impact your marriage. No surprise there, right? It’s like hearing wisdom from Captain Obvious. But let’s look a little closer at two kinds of actions.

Some actions express power. Your spouse may perceive these actions as a threat to their shared control, power, or status. As a result, these actions will increase your spouse’s anxiety. Such actions include accusations, blame, contempt, or angry withdrawal. They can also include stating requests in a harsh, demanding manner or expressing your disappointments in an accusatory manner. In response to these perceived threats, your spouse will likely respond with emotionally protective behavior like defensiveness, counterattacks, or withdrawal. A vicious cycle is started.

Other actions are perceived as expressing vulnerability. These behaviors include, among others, expressing remorse, sharing empathy, expressing personal need, and accepting personal responsibility for misunderstandings or mistakes. Interestingly, when your spouse perceives a decrease in actions expressing vulnerability, they may feel emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect results in feeling threatened…and that may lead to increased anger, blame, or withdrawal as noted above. The cycle begins and goes on…and on…and on…unless we stop it.

How can we stop this cycle? Decrease behaviors that express power and increase behaviors that express vulnerability. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But it is easier said than done. It initially feels safer to use powers that express power. But the long-term consequences of expressing power to maintain a sense of safety results in separation, pain, and the death of intimacy.

On the other hand, it’s frightening to become vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary. It makes us feel…well, vulnerable, exposed, at risk of hurt. But expressing vulnerability leads to deeper intimacy and greater satisfaction in marriages. How do we increase vulnerability and decrease power?

  • Share emotions with your spouse. Talk about your fears and your sorrows as well as your joys and dreams. Weep with your spouse and rejoice with your spouse. After all, the number one goal in most marital arguments is about emotional connection. Start connecting now.
  • Show empathy for your spouse’s concerns and fears.
  • When you have a concern, express it in kindness.
  • Accept responsibility for your actions and behaviors. When you say something hurtful, apologize. When you say something your spouse misunderstands, respond with a more careful explanation rather than anger and sarcasm.
  • Offer forgiveness when your spouse does something hurtful.  
  • Share your personal needs with your spouse and allow them to help meet those needs.

Yes, actions have consequences even in marriage. Decrease actions that express power in the relationship and increase actions that communicate vulnerability before your spouse. You might be pleasantly surprised with the increased intimacy and love.

Powerful Combinations of 3 Little Letters for Parents

When it comes to parenting, some of the most powerful interventions appear small and insignificant. For instance, the simple, small act of  saying “thank you” to our children on a consistent basis has a powerful impact on their self-image and their behavior. Another small but powerful intervention involves the arrangement of three little letters combined into a single word.

Consider the power of three little letters arranged to spell the word “AND.” “AND” helps a child learn they can be angry AND remain polite. They can understand that they don’t enjoy doing chores AND they can still do them, even getting them done well. Or, more importantly, they can come to appreciate that you, their parent, discipline them AND you love them more than words can say. You can even be upset with them AND remain present, available, and consistent.

“AND” is good for our parenting philosophy as well. It informs us that we have a great child AND they misbehave at times, even making mistakes that require correction. We can feel bad disciplining our child AND know we discipline them because we love them and want the best for them.  We can hurt for our child when they experience the consequences of poor choices AND let them experience those consequences and learn from them.

We find another powerful combination of three little letters in the word “YET.” “Yet” carries the power of hope and the potential for change. It communicates faith in our child’s ability to learn and grow. Think about it. I can’t ride a bike…YET. I can’t stand up in front of my classmates to give a speech…YET. I can’t cook…YET. I can’t drive a car…YET. “YET” transforms each of these temporary limitations into a hope, an anticipation of future success.

“YET” does the same for parents. I can’t get my children into a good bedtime routine…YET.  I can’t stay calm when my children scream…YET. I can’t stand another week of on-line school…YET.  Each “YET” reveals an expectation that I can learn and grow as a parent. Each “YET” communicates that I am not the parent I want to be…YET, but here is still hope. I can learn and grow. I can become a better parent…YET.

Three little letters combined into a single word with the power to transform, communicate acceptance, offer hope, and anticipate growth. Use them wisely.

In Our Families, Keep It Close Enough for Jazz

I enjoy jazz. I love listening to musicians as they share the stage and play together. In seemingly magical ways, they interact with one another through the music and share in the fun with everyone present. They seem connected, like they can read each other’s mind. They anticipate the next move, the next chord, the next phrase. They are in sync…perfectly attuned to one another.

These musicians teach our families an important lesson. They teach us how to “get in sync” with one another, attuned to the subtle nuances of each other’s communications. When we do “get in sync,” we will resolve discord more easily and find greater harmony more quickly. Plus, when mistakes or conflicts arise, we will back one another up and reestablish the harmony of the home more quickly. How can you get in sync with your family? Follow the example of jazz.

  • Develop mutual goals and priorities. Healthy families established priorities they can all support. Like the over-arching structure, theme, and direction of a piece of music, these priorities represent something bigger than any one person within the family. Long-term goals of vacations are a simple example of this. Other overarching themes are more complex, like becoming a family known for engaging in kindness or for being actively involved in their community. Having these overarching themes and structures will allow your family to get in sync by working together with “their ear to the overarching direction” of your family life.
  • Learn one another’s nonverbal cues. Yes, verbal communication is important. But nonverbal communication is essential for attunement. Paying close attention to nonverbal cues gives you a wealth of information that will help you resolve discordant issues among family members and more effectively work to create interesting harmonies. “Listening” to the nonverbal communications of facial expression, eye signals, and even body movements allows you to make small adjustments to your behavior that will decrease misunderstandings and increase effective interactions, strengthening the theme of a strong, healthy family in your home.
  • Balance one another’s strengths and weaknesses. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The most effective couples and families are more aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses. They step up and support one another in their strengths. They humbly ask for help in areas of weakness. They learn when to step back and allow another to take the lead as well as the appropriate time to step up and utilize their strengths to enhance the beauty of the family interaction.
  • Practice a give and take. Listening to jazz groups you will notice different players taking the spotlight at different times When one player begins an improvisational solo, the other players play more quietly and support the solo. They follow he soloist’s lead. In families, there is a time and place for each family member to take the lead. The other family members can gather around them and support them in the “solo.” If anything goes awry, the rest of the family can quickly jump in to help them out, lift them up, and get them “back on track” while making it all sound so easy and good.

Four hints we can take from jazz as we strive to make our families “close enough for jazz.” Of course, we will never be perfect. But those imperfections allow us to grow, learn to better tune to one another, and maybe even make some new, interesting harmonies. After all, we don’t have to be perfect…just “good enough for jazz.”

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