Marriage and family therapists not only pinpoint a lack of communication as a source of marriage and family unhappiness, they also point out that bad communication in marriage causes unhappiness. To keep that from happening in your marriage, let’s look at some of the things that strong families have learned about good communication. Their experiences help us see how to eliminate faulty ways of communication in favor of effective ones.
Basically, strong families gave six rules for good communication.
Rule #1. Allow Enough Time
While much communication in a strong marriage or family is spontaneous — “We talk while we do chores together” or “We talk anytime we’re together” — some strong families plan a certain time each day for the entire family to be together to talk.
Oteka and Jerry, for example, use dinner as a time for each member of the family to share the most enjoyable experiences of the day. Other families plan special times, such as family night or family councils, for family members to share happy things, problems, and concerns with each other. These families do not shirk talking about difficult or troubling things; but at the same time, they make sure that the positive sides of life are well represented in the dialogues.
So strong families don’t spend all their time communicating about problems or worries. They make time to talk about other matters of interest to every family member, both trivial and important.
Rule #2. Listen
Strong family members realize that communication involves two steps; talking and listening. They avoid the trap of focusing on talk to the exclusion of listen.
Listening strengthens the relationship between folks by conveying messages of caring and respect. Strong families increase their understanding of each other by being good, active listeners…active listeners notice facial expression, body posture, and voice tone as well as words. They nod or say “okay” or “go on” or something to indicate their attention. And really good listeners “sift,” as the nineteenth-century English novelist Dinah Maria Mulock Craik expressed it: “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a fruitful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”
Rule #3. Check It Out
Bob had been irritated all evening. He’d snapped at Ann a couple of times over nothing and had been unusually quiet the rest of the time. Of course, Ann was disturbed over this. Naturally, she felt hurt and resentful toward Bob. However, her resentment was based on the assumption that Bob’s irritation and negative behavior were directed toward her.
She decided to see if Bob was really angry or upset with her or if something else was going on. She said, “Bob, you’ve been acting grumpy tonight. Is it because of something I’ve done, or is it something else? Do you feel okay?” Bob then shared with Ann that his budget had been cut at work, and because of the cut, he would have to terminate a friend who works in his office. He was not upset or angry with Ann at all. If she had not clarified the meaning of his communication, she would have misinterpreted Bob’s behavior and may have reacted in a way that would only have made their evening worse and possibly harmed their marriage.
Unclear messages can often be clarified by saying, “I’m not sure I know what you mean by that” or “This is my understanding of what you mean…Is that correct?”
Rule #4. Get Inside The Other Person’s World
We each live in our own unique world. No one sees life exactly the same way you do. The way you look at a certain situation depends on past experiences you have had, the values in which you believe, and your personality characteristics. This means that when two people disagree on an issue, it is not always because one person is right and the other wrong. It is more likely due to the fact that the two people come from different worlds, with different perspectives.
Rule 5. Keep The Monsters In Late-Night Movies
Remember when you were a kid and you played the monster game with your friends? Someone would yell, “Here comes the green monster.” Everybody would scream and howl and run amok. The monster game was scary but fun.
Adults also play a “here comes the green monster” game, but the adult version isn’t much fun. It creates anxiety, destroys good communication, and ruins relationships.
In his book Love Busters, Dr. Willard Harley refers to these “monsters” of criticizing, evaluating, and acting superior as “disrespectful judgment.” When disrespectful judgment takes place, relationships will fail. Strong families banish such “love busters” and don’t allow them to destroy all the good that they’ve accomplished in their homes.
Rule 6. Keep It Honest
The communication patterns in strong families are characterized by honesty and openness. People say what they mean and mean what they say.
Members of strong families don’t resort to bullying, outwitting, blaming, dominating, or controlling. They don’t play on dependency; they aren’t silent, long-suffering martyrs who create guilt. All those methods of manipulating others lead to dishonesty and shallowness in relationships.
But some folks use “honesty” as an excuse to be exceedingly unkind. Strong families maintain a balance of honesty and kindness. They aren’t apt to let Sis go out in a dress and hairdo that look ridiculous just because they don’t want to offend her. On the other hand, they won’t use one mistake in her judgment as an excuse to blast her taste, time management, hygiene, and study habits.
The important principle is the idea that any disagreement, any thought, any aspect of human relationships can be expressed in a positive, nonjudgmental, nonhurtful way.
Kindness is more than reserving harsh or hurtful words. Sometimes it is seeing to the needs of the rest of the family before you expect them to help you with your own.
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