DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…
- ACKNOWLEDGING DIFFERENT COMMUNICATION STYLES
It is not difficult to understand why communication is listed as a top cause for divorce. According to Divorce.com, communication problems rank number two in the top ten reasons that marriages fail. If not for divorce lawyers, many couples might not even be able to agree about finalizing the divorce. How can people with entirely different communications styles actually communicate what’s needed to maintain a happy or even comfortable marriage? Allow the Jamals to use this blog to offer documented insights of how this can work.
My husband says that I communicate with these broad strokes that irritate him. I have a so called style of communication that includes asking questions. I do this for clarification so that I can get a sense of whether or not we are on the same page with our understanding of terms. He also finds this irritating. On the other hand his matter of fact categorization of my communication style is irritating to me. He gives titles to how I am communicating. A case in point is him declaring that my examples are “broad strokes.” When, in my mind, they are examples. For example, I have stated “it seems like you’re more interested in the game than in me.” This is an example that he considers to be a broad stroke. I do not agree that it is a broad stroke statement. However I am committed to try painting my conversational pictures with more specific references – for his sake.
I have come to terms with my understanding that we simply have different ways of understanding and communicating. He also has this thing- that he admits -with his expressions. For example, if someone is stating something that he really disagrees with, he will frown – a lot. And if he really disagrees, he will turn his head and frown. He has a face that demonstrates frowns even when he has his face turned away from you. His face has much character. (This is one of my husband’s communication traits that I actually find quite intriguing.)
- NAVIGATING THE RULES OF COMMUNICATION
I sometimes find it difficult to communicate with my husband because (in my mind) he does not accept my understanding of what is being said. For example in a recent conversation, I introduced an example of how we are able to be courteous to other people who might do the thing that irritates us. Case in point – I know a few people who finish my sentences before I can complete what I am saying. Many times they are correct. But sometimes they are off. The times that they are off, I tend to say “No, that’s not what I was going to say…” and then take my time to express what I was going to say in the first place. However when my husband interrupts me before I can finish my sentence, I tend to show him just how irritating and inconsiderate he is being by not letting me finish my thought.
I may use examples like the previous illustration, comparing how I respond to my husband as opposed to how I respond to someone else cutting me off while talking. But my husband does not like me to use examples of others to express how we communicate, because he claims that it’s not the same. According to him, this type of comparison is not good because we do not have the same time invested, etc. However I said to him that I am the same person in both conversations. I said that I am just expressing myself differently. But I still have the option of choosing how I communicate. The example that I gave is merely to demonstrate that I can be different, if I choose to be. Therefore comparing how I communicate with others to how I communicate with him is a perfectly valid illustration to use as an example. He does not like those types of examples. Because he dislikes those types of examples, my examples would become the issue rather than the topic itself. In other words instead of trying to show how his cutting me off is an issue, our conversation would turn into my examples becoming the issue.
I feel that this rule that he imposes – because of his dislike- makes it difficult for me to explain how something that he says affects me. His dislike impacts how I communicate.
It has been said that rules are made to be broken. But one crucial problem with communication rules is that they appear to keep changing. This constant re-establishment of rules makes it probable that many of them are broken and discarded even before having a chance to repair the damage. And to complicate the matter even more, a mutual understanding of the communication rules does not appear to be a consideration for many couples. In fact there might be some who would argue that there are no rules. However, I believe and have observed that when it comes to married couples, the rules are set and those who dare to break them must suffer the consequences.
I had to first realize that my husband is not going to change his communication style just so that I can understand and accept him. Even if he could, I do not think that he would choose to go through such an overhaul. Therefore since my husband does not appear to have aspirations towards becoming the communicator according to Margaret’s rules, I must consider how we might move forward so that our discussions have positive results.
- MY SOLUTION TO ENCOURAGE ENJOYABLE COMMUNICATION
So my challenge became, “how do we communicate when we disagree with the rules of communication that are being set by the other party?” My answer in short is with patience and a desire to keep the channels of communication open. In other words, it is not about finding a mutually acceptable technique, but about operating in a loving, caring and respectful mindset. I realize that I must consistently work on my communication skills in order to keep my position as a good wife, mother and everything else that I aspire to be.
I view working towards good communication in a marital relationship is somewhat like working towards a promotion. While seeking a better position, it is important to demonstrate the good qualities that you have. In an attempt to gain advancement people tend to prefer winning favor rather than arguments. However in many marital communications, it appears that the emphasis is on being right.
While seeking a promotion we tend to search for ways to impress whoever has the ability to influence our advancement. We become students of what the powers-that-be indicate are desirable. This objective to attract favor motivates me to become a better listener and to put aside my filters of dislikes. I am generally eager to make the sacrifices needed to acquire a new position. Likewise, I am willing to go the extra distance to find common ground with my husband, because I want to be a better communicator for the sake of our marriage.
I cannot simply be satisfied with how my husband and I communicate because my dissatisfaction is what keeps me striving to learn more about him. It is my opinion that if my discussion style does not invite the channel of communication to remain open, then he will find it a chore to discuss issues with me. In short, rather than get the promotion as a good communicator, I could get fired. Getting fired as a good communicator in our marriage means that my husband no longer trusts me to have an active and productive role in promoting good and fruitful discussions.
- AVOIDING MINE FIELDS IN A COMMUNICATION BATTLE ZONE
When the conversation starts shifting gears and getting intense, it may be time to apply a strategy that prevents further communication. Practically every physical fight, that I have been in or experienced, began with words that escalated the conversation to striking blows. Writing has been a helpful tool to at least release my thoughts before erupting into a barrage of statements that I will ultimately regret making. Many times, I end up deleting the embittered comments because I no longer maintain the same passion about what was wrong. Most of the time, I even recognize that misunderstanding is at the root of our conflict. This miscommunication has occurred enough that I have learned to give my husband the benefit of the doubt.
I have to remind myself. “I am speaking and listening to the man that I love. I ask myself, “Do you want to enjoy communicating with him?” My answer is “I do.” Therefore I remind myself to watch for signs that I am irritating and offending him. I try to be quick to apologize if I recognize my being offensive, trusting that he loves me enough to forgive me.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
- IT’S HARD BEING MISUNDERSTOOD
Sitting across from me was a young man with a scowl on his face dressed in casual attire with a short sleeved shirt that revealed a tattoo on his arm that read “misunderstood.” Intrigued by the tattoo I asked the question; “What’s the story behind that?” He looked up at me and stared in to my eyes with a sarcastic expression as to inquire… “Do you really want to know?” I assured him that I was interested saying… “I have often felt that way myself, but I was wondering what led you to have a tattoo put on your arm that said that?”
His scowl left his face and the sarcastic expression dissolved as he began to explain: “All my life I have been misunderstood. People just don’t get it. I try to tell them what’s up but they just don’t hear me, or they think do but they don’t. I just got tired of explaining that to everyone so I let the tat do it for me.”
That young man and his tattoo probably represents a large populous that has gone through life frustrated with the consequences of not being able to clearly communicate their heart, their thoughts, their character, or even their intentions. Being misunderstood is probably among the most divisive dynamics recorded in human history.
Genesis 11 outlines for us a time where things were much different: “1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” The setting is awesome to even imagine. However, I am most impressed with what God had to say about these people: “6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” If God Almighty is so impressed with the potential of a people that are communicating effectively with a “common speech” then surely it must be a very incredible thing to accomplish. He further demonstrates the significance of this dynamic by changing the course of mankind with a devastating but simple barrier: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” Thus the problem of being misunderstood was born. That’s all it took. You can turn the whole world upside down just by causing people to misunderstand one another.
Those people were scattered across the world in lieu of their inability to understand each other. With that barrier, many more barriers were erupted as social, gender related and cultural barriers set in. On the other hand, even in the midst of the very smallest community; a couple, we find that a failure to be understood is still among the most difficult barriers to overcome. Couples’ using what is supposed to be a common language but failing to be understood is often the catalyst leading toward divorce.
- NAVIGATING THE TWO-WAY STREET OF COMMUNICATION
Task oriented men, such as myself, must learn competencies that help us to communicate more effectively. Learning how to listen is among the most challenging for us. We are not great communicators because we have mastered skills of being an orator. Communication is a two way street that has more casualties than the busiest highways due to a lack of communication skills.
We often approach our spouse or significant other like a search dog looking for the bottom line or point. “Why are you telling me this?” is a far different listening posture than “Tell me more… I really want to get this.” Many men busy themselves with tasks they can tally to encourage themselves and to provide evidence that they are producing something and the fact that they are not worthless. But when you consider the communication, timing and rhythm between you and your partner there are no clear cut rules of the road. For example; an intimate conversation with your spouse is not always framed by a fire place and two glasses of red wine. Consequently, the task oriented male may often miss the cues to change his normal “search dog” attitude toward his spouse into a patient and attentive “I’m really interested in what you’ve just said. Can you share a little bit about what lead you to that belief?” posture.
I heard a man sharing his frustration: “I told her that I loved the way her mouth moved when she talked and she looked at me and said, yeah but were you listening to what I said? Women are so demanding!” Now to be fair, I understand that minimizing the verbal intimacy of a woman to a comment about the way her mouth looks might not be what she was hoping for then, but there will be times that she wants her man to be so enamored with her physical attributes that all the noise around him just turns to quiet as he looks upon her sultry lips in motion.
- FINDING YOUR ROLE IN COMMUNICATION
How do we perform as the “fix it men” we were born to be if we are spending so much time with this talking and listening? Well fellas, I’ve learned you don’t take a wrench on a date and there are times when a plumber helps and there are times when what is required is a dance partner with great ears and rhythm. Just as dancers are taught how to synchronize their movements with one another, so can couples learn how to compliment their unique communication styles. Of course there will be times when you appear clumsy and may even fall. However, the willingness to learn how to do it better helps you both to fall in each others arms rather than going for each others throats.
A trained Therapist and friend, Midge Lansat, taught me the value of “mirroring what your partner is saying to you” as a method of validating what s/he is saying and demonstrating your intent to hear and understand. I must admit, I am still in training. However, I do see the value of the method and recognize that it is a great tool to use in my professional and personal life. I have discovered that we often hear with filtered ears that interpret what is being said based on a number of variables that are not necessarily coming from the person talking to you.
I have learned from my wife and author of “When Girls Don’t Tell” if a person has had a childhood of abuse, there may be a strong resistance to people that appear to be denying them the ability to have control over their lives and their actions. You may be trying to help out, saying “I’ll do that for you.” However she may hear, “I can do that better than you, so I’ll do it” or “You don’t know what you are doing and so I’ll do that for you.” Both are probably a long way away from your attempt at being courteous and neither of them was based on who you are and what you said.
Let me also say that survivors of abuse are far too varied to generalize or type cast as all behaving the same. My attempt in this story was to illustrate that often the provocation to a response lies outside of the relationship or conversation. I hope you understood me while reading this.
- MY MOST HELPFUL TIP
The most helpful tip I can offer in this initial blog to those seeking an answer for effective communication is to “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This principle is outlined in Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Dr. Covey offers an incredible amount of insights to communication if you want a good reference. I would also add that in seeking first to understand we must also resist seeking an understanding so that we express our point. It’s the difference between somebody listening in a “pause mode” waiting for a chance to answer rather than removing any come back comments or premature conclusions about what is being said.
I plan to develop better skills with my “dance partner/wife” and develop a rhythm that endures the clumsiness that will occur from time to time. I may not always be elegant, but I will be determined. I believe our love will afford me the grace to overcome my stepping on her toes from time to time while trying to embrace her more passionately. Our 30 plus years relationship is worth it.