For years I had a problem with my basement flooding during heavy rains. It seemed like with every downpour I would be bailing out the window well trying to keep the rising tide from cascading down the walls to the carpet below. Eventually I was able to identify the problem as a rut in the grading around the house which was undetectable under pachysandra ground cover. With a little digging and some stone I was able to reroute the drainage path away from the rut and its direct aim on my basement.
Marriages communication is susceptible to ruts. We get storms coming up in life and next thing we know we’re bailing out a flood of foolish and hurtful words as fast as we can. But often we don’t see the ruts that contribute to the flood of misunderstanding and argument. They’re hidden under the groundcover of personal preferences, of comfortable habits. And unless we deal with the ruts we won’t get much beyond bailing out trouble in our communication.
A few years ago my wife Jill and I discovered through repeated similar conflicts that we had some bad communication ruts. Jill would describe herself as a detailed person who finds fulfillment in communication when she has a chance to process what she’s feeling through verbalization. I like to work things out inwardly and summarize what I come up with. Jill spends a lot of her day dealing with practical life issues and loves to open up her life to me. As a counselor I spend days immersed in complex emotional issues. I like simple and happy talk at home.
So our communication problems tended to be around what Jill wanted to talk about and what I wanted to avoid. What often happened is that Jill would come to me with something in a verbally detailed way and I’d try to fix the problem with an economy of words. Surprisingly that even worked at times; but more often than not it led to mutual frustration and conflict.
We decided to tackle this issue on a couples retreat and felt that the Lord really helped us to see some things we’d never seen before. We discovered that there were basically four types of communication needs in our marriage. Jill tended to bring things in generally the same way. And I tended to hear things in the same way. We were rutted in ways we couldn’t detect and our communication suffered for it. This chart shows the ruts we had allowed to dominate our talk.
|The Need||How She Brings It||How I Respond|
|Life Burdens (Ex: Struggle for faith in trial)||Details and emotion||Analyze and solve|
|Practical Concerns (Ex: We’re not getting projects done)||Details and emotions||Analyze and solve|
|Decisions (Ex: How should we handle family obligations over the holidays?)||Details and emotions||Analyze and solve|
|Fellowship/Connection (Ex:How can we draw closer together?)||Details and emotions||Analyze and solve|
As we considered the Scriptures, we saw how much the focus in biblical speech tends to move away from what serves us toward what serves others. But we were viewing our speech as our own tool of self-expression. The Holy Spirit allowed us to see the inherent selfishness and laziness in so much of our habitual communication. And we began to experience not only conviction, but fresh faith to do the work to re-route our communication away from its ruts and onto new paths of service and understanding. Jill began to see that she placed too much desire on the cathartic release of verbalizing all that was going on. And I began to realize that real relationship needed more from me than problem solving.
So we attacked the ruts by making some practical commitments that, over the years, have helped us re-route our communication. In a sense, we’ve rewritten the chart to look something more like this:
|The Need||How She Brings It||How I Respond|
|Life Burdens (Ex: Struggle for faith in trial)||Details and emotion||Listening and compassion|
|Practical Concerns (Ex: We’re not getting projects done)||Objective questions||Open dialogue|
|Decisions (Ex: How should we handle family obligations over the holidays?)||Concise information||Lead to agreement|
|Fellowship/Connection (Ex: How can we draw closer together?)||Gracious reflections||Gracious reflections|
Now there is always the temptation to re-dig old ruts. To avoid this, Jill sometimes needs to think through what she wants from me before we talk so she can engage in a helpful way. And sometimes I need to pause the conversation to make sure I understand how I can best serve our relationship in the interaction. But because God has worked on our hearts and not just our practices, we see even the effort to get on the same page as evidence of his grace in our lives and marriage. Jill and I want our words to carry the heart and accomplish the goals that God has for us in our marriage.
Join the Conversation
Where are your communication ruts? What may be covering them over – hiding them from view till storms spill over and make a mess? What would a communication ‘rut chart’ look like for you?