It was so subtle I hardly noticed it.
Karen, a twenty-seven year old woman, mother of three, sat passively before me while her husband, Ron, also twenty-seven, spoke to her. Thin and appearing depressed, she and her husband had come to see me for their marriage crisis.
Actually, he wasn’t really speaking to her—he was lecturing her, making a point. Ever so gradually his tone has become harsher, he was leaning toward her and began pointing a finger at her. I was so caught up in his words that I didn’t notice his intrusive, invasive stance. She did.
“I don’t like the way you’re talking to me,” she said. “You sound like an attorney.”
Ron was taken off guard, and without a hitch, he continued making his point.
“I just want you to understand me,” he insisted.
She was not distracted from her position.
“But, I don’t like the way you’re talking to me,” she continued. “Please move back and lower your voice or I’m going to end this conversation.”
Both Ron and myself were somewhat startled. I had actually coached Karen on caring for her ‘personal bubble’ and now she was doing it. She had become aware of his ‘parental tone and stance’ and shared her discomfort with him.
Lacking self-awareness, Ron didn’t seem able to process this new information. Though he had been counseled previously about the importance of maintaining a respectful posture, tone and demeanor, he seemed caught up in the point he wanted to make.
“Ron,” I said firmly. “Karen is asking that you slow down, lower your voice and take note of how you are talking to her. This is a pattern in your relationship and really needs to change if you two are going to make a healthy connection to each other.”
Karen nodded her head, confirming that she wanted Ron to pay closer attention to his style of communication, while simultaneously she would work on letting him know sooner when she felt uncomfortable, setting healthier boundaries and limits on any dysfunctional communication occurring.
Scripture confirms this counsel. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
Ron continued to struggle to see how ‘making a point’ could be harmful, and it took additional counsel to help him see that when we strive to ‘make a point,’ we often prick our mate. Our insistence, intensity, even pushiness, are felt by our mate so that they are unable to continue to listen to us. When threatened, our defenses go up and we are unable to stay connected to our mate. Communication stops.
Here are some additional suggestions as you strive to stay connected in a healthy way to your mate:
First, when we slip into ‘making a point,’ we are injuring our mate. While the injury may be slight, it is often enough to put our mate on edge. Persistence at ‘making a point’ will not work—our mate will shut down, push away, push back or pull inward. Any of those actions create disconnection and you will not be heard.
Second, watch your mate carefully for the connection. With practice you will notice when your mate pushes away. You will notice when they become defensive, a sure sign that a slight injury is occurring. Take note of this break in the connection and allow the feedback to change your communication style.
Third, ask for feedback. Ask your mate if you are presenting your information in a respectful, gentle manner. Ask “Are you still with me?” Listen carefully to the feedback they give to you. Watch carefully for shifting into a posture where you become insistent and intrusive, and ask your mate to give you feedback when you do.
Fourth, practice the opposite. If your natural style is to be insistent and intrusive, practice doing the opposite. Lean back. Listen. Fully incorporate what your mate is saying before sharing your point of view. Encourage your mate to share, asking gently probing questions.
Finally, notice the emotional dance together. Agree that together you will take special note of the ‘push/ pull’ that goes on between you. Pay special notice to the connection, paying special attention to each other’s body posture, tone and comfort level.
Please take special note of our special offer to download our FREE eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, found on our website. This is an interactive eBook for you and your mate to work through together. Also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: September 9, 2013