Monday, January 18, 2016

The Habits of Marriage: Creating a Communication Plan

Before Thanksgiving, we started a marriage series for our blog about The Habits of Marriage. In December, I blogged about praying together, and earlier this month, Howell blogged about the importance of setting a vision for your family. 

Today I want to share about another habit: creating a communication plan.

The other night Howell and I kept my 18-month-old nephew, and when we got in bed at 10:45 that night, he said, “I feel like I didn’t even talk to you today.” 

I laughed. “I know, right?”

“This must be what people mean when they say it’s so hard to have a normal conversation once you have kids.”

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I nodded. “Yep—except every day would feel like our one experience tonight!”

So, if you have kids—this post is for you! It’ll be challenging, but make a plan!

And if you’re like us, and you don’t have kids yet, this post is still for you. We’ve taken steps to learn to communicate better, and I’ll be honest, Howell being the one to say “I feel like we didn’t talk today” would not have happened a few years ago.

We're both introverts, and I’m no expert, but in my opinion, there are two kinds of introverts—those who like to have deep, meaningful conversations about how they feel, and those like the both of us who think, What? Feelings? I have feelings?

Shortly after we moved to Plainview, our pastor’s wife gave me a book to read titled How We Love. I mentioned to her something like, “I’m not very good at expressing my feelings toward Howell. I feel like I sort of can in writing, but I’m not verbal at all.”

She said, “READ THIS BOOK!”

So, we did. It’s similar to the Five Love Languages, except it’s about five unhealthy ways of loving and only one healthy way.

There’s a quiz you can take to see what your love-style is.

Howell, not surprising, was more healthy than I was. His only unhealthy flags were to be a Pleaser, at something like 30%, and to avoid, at something like 18%.

I was 0% healthy and pretty much unhealthy in 4 out of the 5 categories. (Yikes!)

The largest category was Avoider—at a whopping 80-something percent. (No wonder I wasn’t in touch with my feelings!) I was also a little bit of a Vacillator, a little bit of a Pleaser, and a little bit of a Controller. The only thing I wasn’t was a Victim. (Go figure.)

Why am I sharing all of this?

Well, in part, because this book seriously influenced our marriage. I know there are all kinds of books out there about marriage, and none of them mean anything if you don’t apply the truths or practice making changes.

For example, I learned, as an Avoider, I wasn’t very in touch with my emotions. I expressed one emotion the most—anger. I could easily let Howell know if I was angry, frustrated, mad, etc.

But I didn’t express positive emotions very well, like how I felt about my husband, for one.

Negative was my default.

Howell, as a Pleaser, only expressed positive emotions—to please me. If he was upset or frustrated, he did not express that.

Positive was his default.

We had probably balanced each other out for those first six years of marriage, but that doesn’t make it healthy. Howell was great at telling me how much he loved me, and if we were apart, he always said when he missed me. I struggled to verbalize those kinds of feelings.

But if he was upset, and I asked what was wrong, I got nothing. He couldn’t verbalize those feelings.

We laughed at ourselves at one point taking the test because it asked us to name ten emotions we had felt in the last week. We were like, “There are 10 feelings? Uh—mad, happy, sad. Done?”

The book has a chart of 16 “feeling words” that we printed out, and seriously y’all, once we had the words to verbalize what we felt, it changed how we communicated in enormous ways. 

As a quick disclaimer: just because we feel something doesn’t make our feelings right. Yes, feelings lie, and yes, what we feel does not always line up with the truth of what God says. But there is still enormous power in expressing your feelings. If you can’t do that, then you don’t know how you feel or whether that feeling is a lie.

To pretend like you don’t feel anything (e.g. to pretend like your spouse didn’t hurt your feelings, to pretend like you’re not mad that the Lord hasn’t answered your prayer) doesn’t mean you don’t feel those emotions. It only means you’re not being honest with yourself or with God or with others—even if not intentionally.

So, a communication plan: Maybe Step 1 for you is understanding how you communicate right now; maybe you need tools and resources like we did.

But the major change we made was that we set a date on our calendar—once a week—for us to talk about our feelings. It’s literally there, every week, and it pops up with a reminder. 

We picked a night and a time we are usually home and winding down.

If you have kids, pick a time when they’re in bed. Yeah, you’re probably exhausted, and you’d rather watch TV and zone out. Yeah, the dishes need to be washed, and the laundry hasn’t been folded. But try it—for one night a week.

Howell and I talk every day, of course. We talk about our days and exchange stories about work or whatever. But this night is about how we feel. Are we stressed? Are we connected? Are we trusting God with our family? Do we feel sad? Do we feel peace? We both have learned to share those positive and negative feelings.

And you know what? It trickled into other areas too. If we have a fight, we can get to the root quicker—what did I feel when he did X and why? He can express things like, “It upset me when you said Y.”

We certainly aren’t perfect—and maybe almost eight years of marriage is a crazy amount of time to figure out our feelings, but I’ll say this for us: we made a plan, we determined to be intentional about communicating, and it continues to work.

How about you? Do you need a communication plan for your marriage? Or your family? 

What strategies do you use to communicate that work well? 

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