Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saying it Straight

I write of communication. I write of something I know nothing about. I know about research. I know how to look up information, how to find answers to my questions. I seek answers, but I am by no means an expert. I seek to better myself, but it is hard. I look up information hoping that some of it will stick. I pray that some of it will make me better. So, here goes:

Another road to productive communication is to learn the skill of “saying it straight.” Every person can help their partner to understand them by asking himself/herself, "Am I saying what I really mean?" This involves learning to be aware of what you are actually feeling and developing the ability to put the feeling clearly into words.

For example: A wife criticizes her husband as he sits at the breakfast table hidden behind his newspaper, "I wish you wouldn't always slurp your coffee." What she really means is, "I feel hurt when you hide in the newspaper instead of talking to me."

I, myself, am guilty of continuously not saying what I mean and half of the time, I don't know it until later. I pick at my husband, often harassing him physically, when what I am really seeking is interaction and attention from him. Instead of getting in touch with or expressing my actual need, I downplay it. I deny my real feelings and seemingly seek to turn him away.

Saying it straight involves being honest about the negative as well as the positive, and being able to state them in a non- attacking way: "I feel . . .", rather than "You are. . . ." Some risk is required in the beginning of this kind of communication, until both husband and wife can trust the relationship enough to be able to say what they really mean.

Becoming aware of your own, and learning to translate your partner's coded messages are, unfortunately, steps along the path to good communication. It sounds crazy, but it's true. Feelings and thoughts of which an individual is unaware are often communicated in non-verbal ways. These messages are often hard to decode because they are derived from conflicting feelings.

For example: On a verbal level, a wife says loving things and indicates that she is feeling amorous; but she is careless about personal cleanliness in a way that drives her husband away. He behavior says that she doesn't want him.

All of us send contradictory messages simply because we all have conflicted feelings. It helps to resolve this block if couples can help each other to bring such conflicts out into the open and discuss them.

Decoding messages is a useful skill in marriage. The hidden messages which destroy a relationship are usually critical, attacking, or condescending. The attack may occur in words or in a disguised message. The couple that can become aware of the meaning of their nonverbal and coded messages can often prevent a serious cycle of mutual attack and need-deprivation from beginning.

Of course, not all coded messages are negative. Couples whose nonverbal communication is on a positive level most of the time are continually saying to each other, "I care." The husband who brings home flowers for no reason, the wife who fixes her husband his favorite dinner, the partner who steps beyond themselves and provides their partner with something that their partner needs.

"A relationship which spells closeness also spells conflict". marriage is the most difficult and the most demanding, but also the most potentially rewarding of all human relationships, because it is potentially the most intimate. Because it is the most intimate, it also holds the greatest potential for conflict. People who feel strongly about each other are bound to fight occasionally.

A communication rhythm which helps husband and wife to affirm each other's self-esteem will increase the depth of intimacy in a marriage. Learning to communicate verbally and non-verbally can have the same effect. Effective use of the sense of touch is often worth a thousand words. No spouse should ever assume that "he (she) knows I love him (her)." A growing sense of intimacy should not require minute-to-minute reinforcement; but even the healthiest husbands and wives have enough doubts about themselves to need regular affirmation from each other.

Say what you mean to your spouse, but know that there will always be conflicting messages, just as there are always conflicted feelings. Try to learn how to interpret your partners messages as well as your own. Most of all, be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with your partner.

Now, lets see if some of that sticks!

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