Upfront, let me (Steve) say just because you may identify yourself as a “positive” person that does not necessarily translate into you being a positive communicator in your marriage. I know first hand this is true. Almost anyone I interact with professionally or in friendships would readily identify me as a very positive person. I’m someone who is generally happy and upbeat. However, earlier in our marriage of 46+ years, I could be, and was at times a very negative communicator. And Cindy would admit that she was too.
If you think this is no big deal, you’re wrong. Here’s why: According to research most couples identify communication/conflict as the leading reason for their divorce. Now, Cindy and I can relate to this. That’s because 44 years ago when we nearly divorced this would have been the same issue we would have cited as the cause. Because we have the benefit of looking back and analyzing our problems and what led up to them, I would say the leading cause for the communication/conflict problems was we each developed the bad habit of being a negative communicator. You’ll also know this is an issue in your marriage if one of you goes silent.
So, stop and take a few minutes to honestly analyze your personal communication patterns with your spouse. This will be especially helpful if you’re in a cycle of negative communication that you just can’t seem to break free of. Then, if you’re ready to make some changes, read on and consider what Dr. Gary Chapman says about this. It may be very enlightening:
Are you a Positive or Negative Communicator?
’We’re told in the Bible to ‘Respect everyone, and love your brothers and sisters’ (1 Peter 2:17). [That especially includes your spouse.] I’ve heard many people say, ‘My spouse won’t talk with me.’ If this describes your marriage, the question is, why? One reason some spouses go silent is negative communication patterns.
“Here are some questions to help you think about your own patterns. Consider whether you often come across as negative or complaining.
• Do I listen to my spouse when he talks? Or do I cut him off and give my responses?
• Do I allow my partner space when she needs it? Or do I force the issue of communication, even at those times when she needs to be alone?
• Do I maintain confidences? Or do I broadcast our private conversations to others?
• Do I openly share my own needs and desires in the form of requests rather than demands? Do I give my spouse the freedom to have opinions that differ from my own? Or am I quick to ‘set him straight’?
“If you answer yes to the second half of any of these questions, it may be time to change your communication patterns. It’s all about treating your spouse (and all believers) with respect and love, as 1 Peter 2:17 directs. Doing so may loosen the tongue of a silent spouse.” (Gary Chapman, from, The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional)
For further clarity, let me elaborate a bit concerning what Gary said about positive and negative communication:
1) If you take the time to really listen to what your spouse is saying before responding then you’re a positive communicator. But if you cut them off to give your response instead, then you’re a negative communicator.
2) If you give your spouse grace and space when they need it, then you’re being a positive communicator. But if you force the issue, even when they need go be alone, then you’re a negative communicator.
3) Do you maintain confidences in the things that have been said in the heat of an argument? If you do then you’re a positive communicator. If, on the other hand you broadcast your private marital conversations to others, then you’re a negative communicator.
4) If you share your own needs and desires in the forms of requests, then you’re a positive communicator. If you make demands, you’re being negative.
5) Do you give your spouse the freedom to have opinions that differ from your own? That’s being a positive communicator. But if you’re quick to “set him/her straight,” your communication pattern is negative.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I don’t think any of us REALLY wants to be known as a negative communicator. It’s pretty obvious that there is nothing healthy about this. Nor is it edifying (a way to build up our spouse). But mostly it does not glorify God.
Stuck In Negative Communication Pattern?
But what can you do if you find yourselves stuck in this kind of pattern? Well, on our web site we have a lot of free articles that are designed to help anyone change and grow into a new positive communicator. One tool alone can give you a jump-start. It’s called RESOLVING CONFLICT GUIDELINES (Condensed Version). And then, if you’d like to see these guidelines with supportive scriptures, please view: RESOLVING CONFLICT GUIDELINES – With Scriptures.
These guidelines were ones that Cindy and I used to change our communication patterns. We can’t say we do it right 100 per cent of the time. But even when we blow it and say or do something hurtful to the other it doesn’t take long for the offender to come to their senses. We then seek forgiveness from the other and start building better communication from there.
I want to conclude this week’s Insight with something I believe needs to be said. Almost every week we hear from people who receive the marriage advice we give here and tell us “It won’t do any good. My spouse will never change.” And then they go on to tell us all of the disappointment and heartbreak they’ve endured because their spouse just doesn’t want to participate.
Change Is Possible
Again, I have to confess that for many years that was me. Cindy was the one primarily doing the heavy lifting in keeping our marriage together. But then one day it was like God hit me between the eyes with a hammer. I finally understood what He was calling me to be as Cindy’s husband. Dr’s Les and Leslie Parrott explain it this way:
“We sometimes put our spouse in a box. ‘He’s been like that for years, we say, so he’ll never change.’ But he or she CAN make small increments of improvements. We’re just not open to seeing them. Set aside your skepticism; discover the good changes that may be taking place. Prayerfully consider: ‘What treasure in your marriage might you be missing out on by refusing to believe that change is possible?’”
Don’t put any more energy into worrying if your spouse will ever come around and become a positive communicator. Work to make sure YOU are one. It’s important to the health of your marriage that your spouse does not hear “more negative criticism from you than positive encouragement.”
“In all of Scripture you’ll never find a single passage that suggests constant criticism is God’s preferred method for us to get others to measure up. God’s way is the encouraging way: ‘Encourage one another and build each other up’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11).” (Gary Thomas)
And never give up hope that things can change. God did it in our marriage, He can do it for yours.
For our final word this week, here’s something God says about our communication patterns:
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)
May we always remember to communicate in this way!
Steve and Cindy Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
We talk a lot about positive and negative communication issues and so much more in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself (It’s available both electronically and in print form). Just click on the linked title or the “Now Available” picture below to do so:
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