Staying Married for the Kid’s Sake

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This blog entry is the second follow up to our challenge to develop top 10 Reasons to Stay Married.


DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

I remember one day talking to two of our youngest children about what life would be like for them if my husband and I split up.  It was during a time when arguments between me and my husband seemed to erupt with increasing frequency.  Our youngest children were adolescents at the time and I was concerned that the discord was especially having an adverse effect on them.  I was also considering possible living arrangements in the event that a divorce actually occurred.

  • CHILDREN NEED STABILITY

In response to my bringing up a “what if” concerning a possible separation, my daughter looked at me and said that it “would be too weird.”  My son sort of chuckled and said “mom, stop playin.  Don’t even think about it.”  “Dad ain’t goin nowhere.  And you definitely ain’t goin nowhere.”   At that point I began to consider that a divorce would have a real negative impact on our children.  But what I expected was even more of an issue was how their perception of us would change.  Our children were confident that they knew us and could depend on us.  I pondered how important it is that children believe that they know what their parents would or would not do.

I have learned that children need stability and truth from their parents in order to nurture healthy attitudes in them.  One time, our youngest son was behaving like he had a huge grudge against the entire family.  I finally decided to explore his issue because I was weary of how much his attitude was disturbing the peace in our home.  I was surprised to find that our son was actually upset with my husband and me because we did not take them out like we had agreed to do.  We had come home really tired and asked if we could reschedule an outing to a restaurant that we had planned with the children.  Our son’s whole issue was that we did not keep our word.  I later found out that all of our children expressed that it really bothered them if we cancelled something that we agreed to do for or with them.  I also noticed that they were becoming increasingly unenthusiastic about planning anything together.  I reasoned that this was because our children had grown to distrust that we would actually follow through as planned.

  • KEEPING DIVORCE OFF THE TABLE

Eventually, my husband and I discussed this issue and made a conscious effort to refrain from breaking anymore commitments to our children.  I decided that I would do everything in my power to keep my word to our children after seeing how much it meant to them.  I realized that this meant that this was another reason to keep the issue of divorce off the table.  But since divorce was not an option, we had to learn how to get along and develop better communication skills- even if just for the sake of the children.

I must admit that there were times in our marriage where the disharmony in our marriage seemed too much to bear, even for the sake of the children.  There were even times that I convinced myself that the children would be better off if my husband and I lived separately because we would have such hostile disagreements.  I thought that our children would have a more peaceful existence because they would not have to be subjected to our violent, mean spirited bickering.

  • TEACHING CHILDREN TO BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS

But I had not realized how much our staying together was teaching our children valuable lessons.  For example, they later expressed how much they learned that people can stay together and work out their differences if they love each other.  Although they hated when we argued, they began to trust that we knew how to work things out because of our love for each other.  It also showed them that we cared about them and each other in a way that was self sacrificing.  They appreciated that we were considering their feelings even more than our own.

In today’s society, I hear too many people who simply do not have faith in marriage because of the many examples of divorce in their own families.  I believe that if parents continue to teach children that marital relationships can be easily broken that our society will breed a generation of adults who lack community and commitment in general.  I believe that on a broader scale, this will perpetuate a lack of trust and integrity that will hurt our overall progress – socially as well as economically.

  • IN CONCLUSION

I believe that when parents do not consider the impact that their decisions have on their children, that they risk steering them in ways that they are sure to regret later.  For example, I did not want to influence my children to think that it was acceptable to be unreliable.  I did not want to teach them how to go back on their word in matters of love, education, business or life in general.   Today, I am so happy that our children were factored into the reasons that my husband and I stayed together.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

Blessed to be the father of five children, I have had a number of their friends to claim me as their surrogate father. I have also had a number of much older people claim me as “dad”.  Some were even older than me, which felt awkward at times. More importantly, this represents a haunting void that is present for so many people in our society, it seems clear that strategies for effective parenting and keeping fathers in the home are desperately needed.

  • PARENTS AS ROLE MODELS

My children did not grown up in a home where there were no arguments or slammed doors. However, they did grow up with the benefits of a two parent home. Raising children with two parents is hard enough without the added pressures of adjusting to divorce. I am not holding my wife and I up as model parents. However, I know from the testimonies of our children that they truly appreciate our commitment to working things out while refusing to let them suffer through a difficult and traumatic divorce.

Children do not get to choose their parents and of course there are good models and bad models of parents to examine. In retrospect, I doubt that there is a “perfect and trouble free” model of a family. Even the first family recorded in the Bible of Adam and Eve reported a sibling murder within their family. However, that does not prove that the best model for a family is not with a father, mother and children.

  • MATTERS OF WELFARE 

The importance of the welfare of the children is often demonstrated by the level of sacrifice that many parents adopt as acceptable.  Even in marriages where the parents have fallen out of the affectionate and intimate relationship they once enjoyed, parents are often willing to continue sacrificing and providing for the welfare of their children.

I cannot imagine anything more important to the welfare of those children than the combined efforts of the parents, some great friends and some skilled and knowledgeable professionals to build competencies to repair fractured and stressed relationships.  Sometimes extended family members (in-laws) can assist as well, but those models appear to be less common.

  • OUTSIDE INFLUENCES

Tragically, and far too often, grand parents, aunts and uncles have been compelled to assume parental roles due to the toxic and violent nature of a distressed marriage. In that case, neither of the parents appear to be a good choice to oversee the welfare of the children. Regrettably, even this scenario is not always ideal for raising children. The worse case scenario is often when the courts rule that the children are to be seized and placed into foster care systems. There are far too many horror stories associated with foster care to outline in this brief article.

Another side of this argument usually sites that children do not benefit from being in relationships that are toxic and even violent. I agree with that point. However, the alternative should be framed carefully and with consideration for the long term negative effects of children being separated from one or both of their parents.

  • SEEKING SOLUTIONS

I believe that far too frequently couples head for divorce after failing self-help strategies that were not well though out or just not effective enough to handle the complexity of their problems.  I have also found that couples that seek a team of helpers that can address all sides of the marriage are far more successful in
preserving their marriage than couples with self-help strategies. Effective strategies allow the children to gain the benefit of watching mom and dad work through issues rather than bailing out and leaving the children with feelings of abandonment.

The effective solution to marital issues that threaten the integrity of the family is not his way or her way but a new way that is framed with the understanding that the children’s financial, social, and emotional well being are part of what is at risk. That is why it is critical to seek comprehensive solutions that heal the whole relationship and develops coping tools to provide sustained results.

  • CHANGE FOR THE CHILDREN

Rather than make a choice that is based solely on the children, I believe you can make the choice considering all the issues while acknowledging the weighted importance of the welfare of the children. Often there is a need for real change that is not easy to develop but critical for the sustainability of the marriage and family.

A number of studies argue that children in single parent homes are more at risk for depression, suicide, in addition to poor performance in school. Additionally, children experience  post traumatic stress from the parental battling while being uprooted and moving to new neighborhoods and schools. This is not to say that there are not exceptions to these statistics.  You may be one of those super parents that has done an awesome job raising your child after experiencing a divorce. If that is your testimony, I applaud you and hope that you can write a “How-to” book that will teach others to do the same. However, this article is only to highlight the increased risks concerning children of divorced parents.

  • IN CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I believe the greatest asset any community has are the families that learn the competencies needed to sustain a marriage and keep a family together.  My hope was to present one the greatest inspirations to fight for your marriage and your family.

Great marriages are not free from verbal fighting but they do learn how to verbally fight fair and avoid destroying the most precious gems in the eyes of their children, their parents and their family. Working through struggles and finding equitable solutions serve to teach invaluable lessons of conflict resolution and to build resilience into the character of your children.

Avoiding the Dangers of Discontentment in a Relationship

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DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

Mick Jagger delivered a song that I remember embracing many years ago.  Unfortunately, too many couples are singing that song today.  It’s “I can’t get no satisfaction…but I tried and I tried and I tried.  I CAN’T GET NO…”

Feeling like there is no satisfaction in a relationship can quickly lead to an attitude of discontentment.  Discontentment is being unhappy and annoyed with a situation.  This attitude of discontentment can give way to restlessness, which may ultimately lead to wandering in dangerous relationship territory.  The dangerous territory that I am alluding to is the area of exploring excitement and stimulation outside of the committed relationship.   When satisfactory stimulation continues to happen from other sources (other than your spouse) you may seriously question the value of your present relationship.

I recently listened to a married woman express how much she appreciated the way another man was so thoughtful and interesting.  She added how she wished that her husband was more like him.  This is what I would consider dangerous territory of discontentment.  Thinking that you would be better off with something else only feeds thoughts of discontentment.  As these thoughts are nurtured, they may lead to reckless actions that can cause great damage to a relationship.

  • WHEN YOU FEEL YOU JUST GOTTA GO

Many years ago, I realized that I had a pattern of restlessness that resulted in my taking reckless, impromptu excursions.  I would end up in different cities, hotels and even pressed my way through to Canada in one such episode.  I began these escapes while I was single, but they continued into my marriage.

I actually had not realized that I had a seasonal pattern until my mother warned my husband to look out for it.  It was good that my husband loved me and trusted our love for each other, because he was prepared to respond when the urge hit me.  I remember one episode as if it were just last week.

My husband had come home from a gig.  For those who may not know my husband, Dr. Aaron Jamal is also an accomplished musician, former recording artist, author, ordained minister and counselor, etc.  Anyway, my husband dragged himself into the house early in the morning after driving from his gig and declared that he was tired and needed some sleep.  Well, being the morning person that I am, I announced that I wanted to go out.  I also decided that it was a good time to let him know how I have been feeling neglected and that I was tired of being cooped up in the house.  I wanted attention and was discontented with my treatment.  In short, it was the season for me to take flight.

My weary husband mustered up enough energy to ask me to wait until he got some rest to continue the conversation.  But I was already too restless to wait.  His response was one that made me think 1) I married a crazy man and 2) Maybe I can wait just a bit until my husband has rested.

  • IT PAYS TO KNOW YOUR SPOUSE

My husband knew that I had issues with wrinkles in my clothes and that I had a routine of ironing my clothes before getting dressed.  After I reached for the iron, he somehow ripped the cord from the base so I could not plug it in.  This is the moment that I thought he might be a bit crazy.  At the same time, this only made me even more determined to leave
so I announced that I would get away with wrinkles if I had to.

Still too tired to argue, my husband was thinking about the best way to keep me from going off somewhere.   We had a chair that could be converted into a sleeper which we made available for guests.  My quick thinking husband got enough strength to flip out the chair and drag it in front of the door where he dropped into an exhausted heap.  His weight was too much for me to move and his action was so unexpected that I was amused enough to calm down.  I shook my head and chuckled at him as I watched him slip into his much needed slumber.   This was the moment that I considered that maybe I can vent after my husband has rested up a little.

Oddly, I was able to overcome my restlessness this time.  I refrained from my seasonal escape long enough to vent my feelings when my husband was more prepared to hear me.  I expressed not being satisfied with the lack of attention that I was receiving.  I was clearly filled with discontentment.  But I had no idea about how I arrived at that state in the first place.

  • WHEN YOU LOOK FOR THE WRONG, YOU FIND WHAT YOU SEEK

Unfortunately, when we look for the wrong in others, we tend to find plenty of material to use.  We may often use the common imperfections and mistakes of human-ness to confirm our assumption that someone is simply not all that we had hoped for.  However, I learned that just as my flaws come with the territory, his flaws were included in my wedding vows.    I had to remind myself that I said, “I do.”  I never added “except when he… .”  I never even said “I have to think about that one” or asked “Can we come back to that question a little later?”

Some years later, after looking more at myself, I realized that my feelings of discontentment were mostly self inflicted.   I had been projecting my dissatisfaction with myself onto my husband.  I came to understand that as I grew more satisfied with myself; my feelings of discontentment regarding my marriage began to fade considerably.


  • SOLUTION STRATEGIES TO DISCONTENTMENT IN A RELATIONSHIP

I attended a retreat-type seminar facilitated by a wonderfully insightful woman named Evelyn Christenson.  She taught from her book, called “Lord, Change Me.”  I bought the book and feasted on her insights.  I did my best to apply what I read and soon found myself seeing my husband and my marriage quite differently.  That is when the change in attitude began for me.

I cannot remember who invited me to the conference or why I agreed to go, other than destiny.  But Mrs.  Christenson was able to inspire me to look at what I could do to help my attitude towards my marriage.  I had to make myself open to consider that maybe the issue or fault was not all on my husband.  The hardest element of my change was being able to consider that I might even be misunderstanding what was being said by my husband.  How many times have we declared, “I heard what you said” even though the other person is insisting that those words were never stated?  I had to consider that my mind could be processing information inaccurately.  I had to learn to give my husband the benefit of trust.  As I began to look for the good in my husband, as my mother advised, I begin to see how blessed I really am.

Ultimately, I had to learn to realize the good in Margaret.  I had to stop condemning myself for all of my own past mistakes and hardships. I became aware of my constant assumption that my past wrongdoings and misfortunes somehow made me less of a person.  Of course as I thought so little of myself, I assumed that my husband thought about me the same way.  I had to admit that my discontentment was my own doing and that I had the ability to change it.

To avoid the dangers of discontentment we must first identify that we are struggling with it.  This may be especially difficult if we are comfortable with blaming the other person for not giving us what we need.  But this first step can be what is essential to make real progress in avoiding discontentment.

Then we may need to explore how much of our discontentment stems from self condemnation.  Often some of what we experienced as children shaped our poor and condemning opinions of ourselves.  We may need to do our best to separate our past tragedies from our present realities.

And finally, we need to look for the qualities in our mate that we were attracted to from the beginning.  Those attractive traits are still there and we can have them operating again if we seek them and acknowledge them as we experience them.  We will find that acknowledging the good that we experience from our spouses tends to encourage them to give us more of the same.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

  • Managing Dissonance in Communications and Daily Habits

In order for an orchestra to play well or for a couple that is dancing together to appear graceful there is a need for harmonious timing. However, when we apply that principle to couples and daily communications, there are a number of factors that challenge their ability to communicate in sync with one another’s emotional dynamics.

It is especially difficult to synchronize with one another when you are working in different cultural dynamics and have been delaying pleasure, release and comfort in hopes of a partner that would somehow facilitate that pleasure, comfort or release. If it becomes the responsibility of the partner to facilitate that and they know they are expected to bare that responsibility, then what may occur is that their own needs are delayed even further in order to meet the needs or requirements of their partner. If that continues for weeks, months or even years, it takes a toll on the facilitating partner and a root of bitterness begins to form and harden.

Unrealistic expectations about relationships based on “superman” or “superwoman” fantasies are part of the problem. There is too much potential for discontent when you walk into a relationship thinking they are going to save you from all of your ills or make you better.  It is probable that two people can flourish together due to the synergy produced from the relationship. However, it is not realistic to plan on the flourishing based solely on the partner’s contribution.

  • What Happened to you?

Dr. Frankenstein created a monster from parts of other people put together as his creation. Discontent formulates its own creation often through the influences of life and other people. Do you ever wonder what happened to that person that used to be so carefree, fun and full of laughter? Discontent may be holding that person hostage.

The source of discontentment often originates outside of a lab or the intimate settings of the bedroom. It is the repetitive, negative verbal exchanges that erode the harmony in relationships. For example: A husband that gets laid off from his job comes home only to hear “What did you do wrong this time?”  He overhears his wife talking on the phone with someone saying “I don’t know what we are going to do if he doesn’t get a job soon.” The husband, if responsible, already feels a great deal of pressure to find a job and being laid off inflicts injury to the ego of even the most confident of men.  Somehow he is supposed to muster up the courage and determination to risk rejection and compete for another opportunity/interview to get a job so he can bring in a living wage and take care of his family. However, when that “home” is also the source of another injury through accusations, complaints, ridicule, or worse, exposed embarrassment, then that husband is dangerously discontent.

Now the other side of that equation is that the wife is often over burdened by multitasking; dealing with debt collectors, managing children and the home in addition to the job she has to work to keep your home. If the husband comes home with unrealistic expectations like “Where’s dinner?” or comments like “Don’t you ever clean up this place?”   or worse, “Don’t bother me with all of that! Ask your mother! I just got home!” It is probable that this wife is frustrated and discontent.

Unfortunately, some people have concluded that “If I can make my partner miserable enough then s/he will do what I want.”  That misguided position usually leads toward divorce not a second honeymoon. Promising more hell in hopes of manipulating a partner into being an angel is insanity. I don’t know if these people are looking for marital advice from the Jerry Springer, or Maury Povich shows, but “violence begets violence” and “you reap what you sow” are spiritual laws that have existed forever.

  • A SOLUTION STRATEGY

A better strategy is to find a coping mechanism to heal your attitude.  It is also paramount that each partner recognizes that s/he is responsible for his/her own attitude or state of mind. It is true that trouble is inevitable but misery is optional. I may not be an expert in counting it all joy when I face trials for various types. However, I am a firm believer that the perseverance and character required for our hope is forged through troubled times. Therefore I must develop competencies in handling myself during those troubled times. They call this self control. I have to be willing to work on me and develop coping mechanisms that inspire me to rise up and try it again rather than rehearse my failed attempts or entertain feeling sympathy for myself.

For some, that coping mechanism is reading/hearing inspirational quotes, for others inspiring movies, or sports. However, for me it is usually music. The stories that are embedded in a song that is carefully framed with lyrics to meet me where I am and lift me when I am down, or push me when I want to quit, or just calm me when I am in a storm of worry.  Those songs are treasured tools that I use to cope with life. That is not to say that my wife and “gift from heaven” does not provide inspiring support and relief at times.  On the other hand, we are sometimes going through a need for that inspiration at the same time.

Choose your coping mechanism responsibly. If your coping mechanism is putting your family, your job, or your marriage at risk, it is not worth it. I am even careful about my social networking relationships. Far too many have put their marriage at risk as a result of re-igniting some past flame that now appears mysterious and intriguing. In contrast to the storm of your current marriage, the opportunity may appear attractive however, Proverb 14:12 reads: “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

Another essential component is trust. When it comes to coping mechanisms, trust is invaluable to the relationship so share what and why you are using your coping mechanisms. Be transparent and responsible.

Remember! It is true that trouble is inevitable but misery is optional. Write a song of love together, in harmony while embracing and even learning from the dissonance that is inevitable.

Good Communication Takes Work – Don’t Get Fired

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.