(this is a joint post with my husband, Russ.
My comments are italicized, and his comments are in regular font)
Hi. My name’s Russ. I’m the hubby. Becca’s finally convinced me to write something in her blog. One disclaimer; I lack the eloquence Becca has. But anyway, today we started companionship study (or something like it). I think it’s one of the best things a couple can do, and perhaps, one of the most difficult things. Not because it isn’t interesting or rewarding, but because you’re addressing things about a person you’re closer to than anyone else you know. No other relationship you have with anyone is quite (or nearly) as complex, or important, for that matter.
Our first study session started out really well, had some bumpy parts in the middle, but ultimately ended with both of us feeling more understood, more heard, and more loved. It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.
Becca and I both have very strong personalities
(what he means is that we are both very stubborn)
So, once we get to talking, it can get pretty heated, pretty quick. Don’t get me wrong. The thing goes both ways. I mean, when we’re excited about something, or happy about something, it goes that way too. So, anyway, like Becca said, we started off well, and then, like always, our “personality strengths” kind of took charge for a while.
Which is why our first subject for study was a perfect one for us – verbal intimacy. Yesterday I was at the local DI (Deseret Industries – an LDS-run thrift store) and picked up a book called “Sacred Intimacy" by Brenton and Margaret Yorgason.
I liked the second part of the title, so I agreed to read it with Becca.
Today we read the first chapter, “Verbal Intimacy.” Like I said, this was a perfect place for us to start. Russ and I have been married for 5 years, and communication has always been… a struggle for us. We love each other very much, and we’re usually really nice to each other – but we both struggle with both communicating our ideas, and understanding each other. We are a lot alike (both stubborn, like I said – which also means we’re both a little prideful) and we are also very different. Our upbringings couldn’t be more different – our parents’ parenting styles and personalities; the places we grew up; our educational backgrounds; our talents; just about every single thing about us is different.
So there we were, reading, then stopping for discussion every other page or so.
Which was appropriate, since in the introduction, the author suggested to “read these pages together with your spouse. As you do this, when one of you reads or hears something you’d like to discuss further, speak up and say so. Stop at that moment and share your feelings and perceptions until both of you are fully satisfied with the exchange. Be as honest yet as gentle as possible. Then proceed.” (p. xiii) I think this was great advice for couples who want to study together – especially the part about both parties being “fully satisfied with the exchange.” When Russ or I would speak up about something we were reading, we would talk until someone would say “Okay, I’m satisfied with that” and then we would move on (if the other person was satisfied as well).
Then we finally came to one part which we agreed was one of the biggest factors in the problems we’ve run into with our communication. (I myself believe this to be a key factor in communication issues with most people).
“When we listen with our minds and hearts, we might first determine if we have heard what our partner meant to communicate. This can be done by asking something as simple as, ‘Do I hear you saying that you…?’
“Once we receive a confirming signal that we are interpreting things correctly, it’s much easier to resolve the issue at hand.”
We talked about this principle for a long time. I’m trying not to get started on it right now. I’ll just say, people tend to open up to you much better once they know you understand why they think what they do. (Notice I didn’t say once they know you agree with them).
Remember how I said Russ and I had very different upbringings? One of the things we talk about a lot is how different our parents were in communicating with their children. This is one of the places where my parents did things a little better. When I was growing up, I always felt like my parents listened to me, and really wanted to hear what I had to say. Even if I was being a dumb teenager, they still wanted to know what was on my mind, and never made me feel dumb, and never put me down because of my opinions. They really made me feel like it was important to them to listen to me, and I think they really tried to understand me. Russ’ parents aren’t quite the same. They aren’t really the type to listen to children. Remember the movie Matilda and how all the adults in her life (except Miss Honey) don’t listen to her because they are bigger, smarter, or more “right” than her? Russ was kind of like Matilda in that way. So one of the things we work on in our communication is learning how to be considerate of each other’s sensitivities. Where I wouldn’t mind as much if Russ didn’t outright say “Did I hear you say…?” (I would just assume that’s what he meant), he needs me to actually say it.
So that was a big topic of discussion. Aside from that, there were some other big ones that we agreed are a must when communicating. One of them was the “I”, “I-You,” and “You” statements. The “must” here would be to avoid the latter two. Here’s one example – Instead of saying “I can’t believe you said that.” or “You’re so mean!” You might say, “I feel hurt.” Using the “I” statements instead of the other two demonstrates ownership of the feeling. “By using an ‘I’ statement you communicate that the feeling exists, and that it is inside of you. It is your feeling.”
I liked this part a lot because we have done a lot of “you” statements in our marriage, and they are never conducive to resolving negative emotions – most of the time, a “You” statement or an “I-You” statement just propagates the negative emotions.
There were also a few really good pointers regarding how to deal with negative emotions and how to navigate conversations involving them. Among other things, one pointer included being able to place certain discussions on the back burner until the environment is more conducive to resolving whatever type of conflict there is.
We agreed to try something new. If one of us has a negative emotion that needs to be shared or resolved and the environment isn’t the best (the dog just peed in the house, the kids just dumped a bowl of cereal on the floor, or it’s bedtime) we will say “Can we talk about this later?” That way we know we need to talk as soon as possible, but we can also do what needs to be done at the time.
Another thing we both liked a lot was the “Where are you now?” Question. Not like when she calls you wanting to know why you’re not home for dinner. Rather, it means more, “Can I share a feeling?”
This one is also important to me because sometimes Russ will have something on his mind and if I need to vent about the neighbor’s kids tagging our fence, or the kids being cranky all day he can’t focus on helping me resolve the problem until he’s in a better place emotionally.
Last but not least, there was the reminder not to overwhelm your partner.
“[D]on’t dump too much at once.” Try to not express every negative emotion you’ve ever had all at the same time. That can be too much for anyone to take. And if someone starts getting defensive or “shutting down” (what Russ says I do sometimes), you can just wait for things to cool down a little. We decided that at any point in a conversation, either one of us can call a “time out” where we back out of the conversation and take a few minutes to think (alone), maybe pray, and try to get the spirit back so we can have a productive conversation.
We wanted to conclude with this scripture Brother Yorgason quoted:
My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view. (Mosiah 2:9)
We know that if we communicate with open ears and open hearts, as King Benjamin counseled, we will have deeper intimacy in our marriage.
What are you doing to improve communication in your marriage? How is your verbal intimacy with your spouse? Do you find that deeper verbal intimacy in your marriage helps you have a fuller relationship with your spouse?