There's been a bit of a pause reporting back on the Marriage Survey results, a small thing called 'C who must not be named' has as you know interrupted the normal flow of things across the globe. I've been feeling as if I'm now in an eternal Thursday; we know the weekend is coming but don't quite have that 'Friday feeling' yet. Pressing on!
So can you guess the *#1 biggest struggle in marriage? (from 100 surveyed)
(*read to the end and see the full survey breakdown results)
I couldn't count the number of times I've come away from a conversation or an argument (we used to call it excited fellowship) feeling like we'd gotten absolutely nowhere. More often than not you feel worse and the issue you started with seems bigger than ever. My ideas and assumptions on what communication can look like has needed major reframing over the course of our marriage. I thought communication was about me having my say, being heard and expressed needs, wants, desires being met. Oh dear. You're feeling sorry for my husband right now aren't you?! :D
"We never listen when we are eager to speak"
- FRANCOIS DE LA ROCHEFOUCAULD
A big mistake I've made with communication is heading into a conversation armed with my script, ready to go at it head on. The trouble with this approach is that my ears weren't armed ready to listen. It's kind of frustrating isn't it, to be talking to someone and they don't seem interested or willing to hear your perspective? It makes you put walls up pretty quickly because it's ouchy and, you feel disrespected.
No one enjoys feeling invisible. One of the beautiful things about the nature of God is that He knows our thoughts from afar and every word before we utter them (Ps 139:2,4) this makes me feel very seen and understood. It also makes me feel loved and accepted just as I am, where I'm at. We have a friend in Jesus who understands what it's like to be human with all our infirmities and temptations (yet Jesus without sin) and He can sympathise (Heb 4:15). We see the incarnate nature of Christ in each other when we act the same way and offer the same sympathies and understanding to our spouse. We can even communicate the love of God without words (1 Pet 3:1) where verbal communication isn't possible for whatever reason, maybe your husband is on a different page spiritually or is more of an internal processor.
Why is listening so hard? Humility would be one of the reasons, a lack of. We need buckets of humility rooted in grace and that requires another scary ingredient we steer away from - vulnerability. Patrick Lenciono says, "Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability."
"It's sad, so sad why can't we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word"
- ELTON JOHN
Why do we struggle with being vulnerable? I know for me it has come from a base root of fear; fear of being hurt, taken advantage of, pride being wounded, being wrong, loss of control, the consequences of letting go, shame. Sometimes we have good reason to put boundaries up and should, you expose your vulnerable parts and someone kicks you right there! Or in an abusive situation where you need to be guarded. But assuming that we're talking here within the context of everyday struggles faced between two flawed sinful healthy-ish people committed to moving forward, learning to be vulnerable is one step towards better communication.
I think I can safely raise my hand as being a bumbling communicator growing up and into my late 30's. I was quite insecure. When you're insecure about your identity, the core of who you feel you are you find yourself putting on a mask, a brave face. I grew up with a lot of instability so my learned way of coping was to tough it out and fend for myself. You can imagine how well that philosophy outworked in my marriage! I had not learned what healthy communication looked like, every issue in my experience began and ended with heated confrontation, tears, anger, frustration, wounds. Worse than that was the polar opposite, buried feelings, unspoken words, pushing things under the carpet. Silence can be more potent than a blazing row. The result was a woman who bottled things for too long until I became like Old Faithful, then right on time I'd explode. By that stage even though what I had to say might have had some merit my delivery completely detracted from the point.
Mentor, communicator and leadership developer Paul Scanlon rightly points out that sometimes when we're communicating right and true points it can all be lost with the way that we're saying it, "Your tone, manner and attitude all speak louder than your voice. If your voice is speaking friendship but your tone is hostile, then your voice is weakened by your sound. You can teach grace but sound judgemental and peace but sound stressed." Ouch! I remember one time when my kids were getting on and on and on at each other over the course of a day, this girl snapped, "Be gentle with each other!" I hissed through gritted teeth. I meant what I was asking with all my heart but I had no training in how to express it well.
Do you know the game Whack-a-Mole? Whack-a-Mole is an arcade game in which the player uses a small rubber mallet to hit robotic toy moles that pop up randomly in holes laid out across the surface of the machine. It's super fun and quite hysterical as the moles pop up faster and faster and you don't know which hole they'll peek out from. You have to whack it as hard and fast as you can, catching as many as possible. Sometimes we're afraid to share our hearts for fear of getting whacked! It seems every time your husband opens his mouth it's wrong and you don't hold back on pointing that out. Maybe you're the mole?
Let's face it, none of us are going to get out of this alive. What I mean is this - we are going to get hurt and we're going to hurt others. But I think we can learn and are called forward to a brand new self in cultivating a tongue that brings healing, sowing one seed of peace at a time, over time and through much repetition. In order that new life can come there needs to be a dying, a dying to self. The psalmist David says in Psalm 116, 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints'. When we make the choice to honour God and follow His commands to love like He loves us, we're putting ourselves aside in order to allow His goodness to grow, the aroma of that offering goes up before Him, He breaths the sweet fragrance in deeply I think.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting
along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings,
not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard
work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
Several years ago my husband and I committed to a weekly 'date night'. That may sound silly, I even had a friend say how daft it was as we're married and couldn't technically date but a glass of wine and nice meal out didn't sound silly to me! We'd been going through a prolonged season of singing from different song sheets and finally came to the place of seeing we had to take action, no more bottling, burying and hoping it'd right itself. It wouldn't. Sometimes our marriages are like that frog being cooked in water; the water is cold at first and turned up so gradually that by the time the heat becomes noticeable they're already sharpening the cutlery. So every Wednesday we'd go out for what we humorously came to call our 'fight night'. We had a backlog of things buried and those first couple of months were hard digging. You're going to get your hands dirty when you first start replanting for a new harvest. But we kept at it and you know, after a couple of months and some good guidance which included a book study and seeing a counsellor we began to get back on track. It was like the tiny rudder of a ship, the adjustments were so small and imperceptible at first but over time we steered in a new direction.
Sowing seeds of peace, yielding, being consistent is hard, but Holy work. Author John Powell says, "Communication works for those who work at it". You might be wobbling around on training wheels right now and wondering if you'll make it. Maybe you're staring at the bike like it's about to attack you or you used to be a high speed racer but fell off and got all scraped up and are too afraid to get back on.
Let me encourage you, while it's called today, you got this and God has got you. Trust me, we've been there, it doesn't matter how hopeless it looks, with the right weeding, sowing and watering, God can even bring the dead back to life. Wipe the slate clean and dust yourself down. Aim to sow one seed today, one calm kind word, one encouraging affirming comment, one moment of biting your tongue, one word said gently rather than a flurry of fire, and over time and through much repetition, that skill will grow and develop and blossom into an atmosphere of peace in your marriage.
I'm cheering for you!
Some women identified multiple struggles, the percentages reflect that.
27% Finding time for intimacy/regular intimacy/enjoyable intimacy, friendship, romance
Do you think the 27% is a contributing factor of the 33%?
12% Spiritual differences
11% Parenting philosophy/styles
31% A combined statistic consisting of: differences in personality, values, marriage role definitions, shared responsibilities at home, financial planning, mental health issues, exhaustion, stress, trust issues, common interests, loneliness, husband's pornography addiction, alcoholism.
Again, a huge thank you to everyone who took part.