When it comes to communication, I already have two strikes against me: I’m a guy and an introvert.
Guys are notorious for unclear speech when they do speak, and for not speaking enough. Introverts like to process by themselves and avoid interaction with people.
Do some swift math and you will rightly conclude that communication has been a challenge for me all of my life, and will probably continue that way for the rest of my life.
Here are some of my past pitfalls.
I don’t communicate for fear of hurting myself or my wife. My internal processor determines that my wife will respond a certain way; therefore I do not say certain things to avoid hurting her or myself.
I communicate unclearly for fear of hurting my wife or myself. My internal filters guide me to soften and blur the edges on what I say in order to avoid conflict, which only results in completely obscuring my meaning and intent.
I communicate harshly. This seems like an oxymoron, but because I fear hurting myself and my wife, and because I avoid conflict, when I do get the truth out my words can often be harsh because I am working so hard to communicate what I know needs to be said.
I am unable to verbalize my feelings and thoughts. Because I am filtering everything I say based on the supposed feelings and preferences of my wife I eventually replace my preferences with her perceived preferences.
Confused yet? Have a headache yet? Exactly. Fear of conflict, fear of getting hurt, and fear of hurting your spouse’s feelings (wanting to please) will introduce tension and frustration into your life and marriage. This tension and frustration combined with a complete focus on the happiness of your spouse will quickly blind you to yourself and make the simplest questions (What do you want to eat?) impossible to answer.
Familiar with this scenario?
Left unchecked these issues can ruin your marriage. Address them and you will see your intimacy soar.
Here are several strategies for counteracting these pitfalls.
1. Get help. If you are stuck in the mindless circle of pleasing others, find a counselor or friend who is very good at seeing through your verbal masks and who is able to challenge you. Trust me. You cannot get out of this cycle by yourself.
2. Pray. Like I said, you can’t make a change by yourself. God created you and made you unique. Ask him to reveal to you who you really are and to give you the courage to be that person.
3. Observe yourself. My counselor gave me this valuable assignment at our first session. For a week pay close attention to your moods and feelings and record them in a journal with your opinion on their origins.
4. Be honest with yourself. Admit the truth about what you have observed. You have to tell yourself the truth before you can tell the truth to your spouse.
If you have been hiding behind masks for very long this exposure will be very difficult. You will make a lot of mistakes and will probably need to ask forgiveness from your spouse for foot-in-mouth disease. Just remember that God accepts us just as we are, so we should do the same.
5. Value yourself. Value yourself enough to say and do what you need to say and do in order to be at peace with yourself and God. If you base your words and actions on what your spouse thinks (or what you think they think!!), you are placing the value of yourself below them. You are equals.
For all of you devout Christians out there, “considering others better than yourself,” as Paul puts it, does not mean ignoring what you think and feel at the expense of others. He was talking about humility and deference, something completely different.
6. Set boundaries. Allow the opinions of your spouse to penetrate only so far into your psyche. Far enough for you to consider the validity of what they are saying, but shallow enough that their opinion never comes close to compromising your beliefs about yourself.
7. Love through honesty. The greatest love you can show to your spouse is to be honest with them. In a world where everyone is selling something or pretending to be someone they’re not your spouse needs you to lovingly speak your mind, to be real, to be strong enough to take a little blowback and conflict.
How are you going to love your spouse more today?