Navigating Healthy Communication

navigating healthy communication

After a weekend away at a marriage conference, communication is in the forefront of my mind. While I’m not a new student to the science of interchange, I’ve only begun to really use this knowledge in my own marriage. First of all, let me say how thankful I am to have a supportive husband who accommodates my love for “training” and all things counseling. When I told him about going away for an entire weekend without kids so that we could “work on our marriage,” he graciously agreed.

In our six years of marriage, we have done various bible studies, attended seminars and reached out to older couples for advice on how to grow closer. I’m not sure if this is normal or if it’s just because we both have an interest in this sort of thing but I’m extremely grateful for his partnership in ministry. One more thing I would say is there is no amount of information that will make you a better communicator. It is only through practice with intention as well as consistency that we begin to see a difference.

With that said, let’s continue… As we ended the weekend, the speaker asked us to think about one thing that we were going to intentionally work on and discuss it with our spouse. The prime time for this Sunday afternoon conversation occurred on our drive home while the boys were asleep in the backseat. As we began our drive home, weaving through traffic and trying to communicate, tension kept cutting us off and misunderstanding veered into our lane. I realized, then, that communication is a lot like driving.

Think about your last road trip. You planned for the drive, packing what you needed, scouting out the best route and making sure you car was in the condition to travel. But, let’s get real, no road trip is perfect no matter how well you plan or anticipate the road bumps along the way. We can all get distracted, resort to speeding due to impatience and try our best attempt at multitasking while keeping our “eyes” on the road. And let’s not forget about the feelings that rush over us when we see the cop car in the distance.

Driving and communication both require focusJust as you should avoid texting and other distractions while driving, we should also give the same courtesy to people. Glancing at my phone while David is talking shows him that I am more interested in something or someone else. Giving him my full attention shows him that I am involved, responsive and care about what he is saying.

While driving, it is important to be observant of our surroundings such as other drivers, weather conditions, etc. In the same way, while navigating your way through a conversation, we must be aware of the other person or group’s social cues, facial expressions and body language. When David begins to lose eye contact or slouch in his seat, I learn quickly that I’m losing his attention. The point is not who is in the wrong here, the point is to stop and assess the situation. I’ve found that it’s easier to keep one’s attention when you discuss one issue at at time. In the past when I’ve had long monologues of how I feel, David doesn’t know which point to address when it’s his turn. Allowing myself to be observant of him keeps me in one lane at a time.

Another important factor is keeping up with routine maintenance for your vehicle. It’s not a good idea to begin a trip if you are running low on gas or need other maintenance. One thing I have learned from being married is that it’s best not to have a serious conversation when either of us is hungry or tired. Our body has limitations just as our car does and even though we don’t want to admit it, we need regular maintenance as well such as physical exercise, regular meal times and mental/emotional/spiritual “checks” such as bible study, prayer or regular conversations with close friends or an accountability partner.

In the last few years, I have learned to slow down while driving. It’s like the old saying goes, “Slow and steady wins the race.” After having to take a defensive driver’s class, I learned that speeding doesn’t actually save time. I remember the chart in our booklet that listed the speed limit x the distance traveled and compared it to 10+ miles over the speed limit. Most of the time, the driver was only spared 5 minutes or less. I realized that speeding didn’t get me anywhere. It was just a waste of energy and it put me at risk for another speeding ticket or worse, an accident.

In the same way, speeding through a conversation doesn’t get you anywhere. As I drove home this weekend, I had to stop myself from thinking of rebuttals, opinions and future conversations so that I could fully listen to what David was saying. We must slow ourselves down from trying to get our point across and allow the other person the courtesy of telling us theirs.

Finally, know where you’re going. Generally, when we get in the car, we have a plan and know where we’re headed. The same goes for communication, know your destination. With my husband, we have resolved to always end in mutual respect and agreement – even if it’s agreeing to disagree. We have learned that our fight is not against one another. If one of us “wins” the argument, the relationship, itself, loses. As we enter the next chapter of our marriage, it’s not about fighting to fight or get our point across anymore. It’s become more about resolution. That’s not to say we will always go to bed completely agreeing with the other. That’s not reality. Our goal is to try our best at understanding where the other is coming from and end with compassion and reconciliation.

One more note: Practice makes progress. While I am not perfect, I am a much better driver today than the doe-eyed girl who left the DMV with her learner’s permit 17 years ago. I have had to train myself to become more aware of my surroundings and slow down when I’m driving. In the same way, communication has also changed for me. I am learning to be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). That doesn’t mean I won’t fail in the future but it does mean I am better equipped in my driving and communication skills.

How do you see communication? Is it like six lanes of traffic in a busy city or do you find yourself joy-riding on a scenic highway? No matter which way you go, I hope that we all realize that the person in the passenger seat next to us matters just as much as we do. It’s okay to let them control the radio or the AC every now and then. 😉

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