Most of the following on communication is directly or indirectly from A Lasting Promise by Scott Stanley. Ann and I enjoyed the training on this material we received from Scott when we lived in Denver.
The basic premise of the book is that eliminating the negative from your communication is more important than increasing the positive since it takes anywhere from 5-20 positive interactions to counteract a negative one. What he and the other researchers found at Denver University is that the positives in a relationship differ greatly couple by couple but the negatives are fairly consistent.
Here are the four primary danger signs in communication.
The first danger sign is Escalation. This is where a disagreement starts and then it gets louder and louder and/or meaner and meaner.
Escalation usually happens in the first three minutes of a conversation. Often it occurs right when someone walks in the door. It is characterized by back and forth negative statements with negative begetting negative. The conversation goes from this to THIS to you ARE THIS.
For couples that struggle in this area there is an inability to exit heated exchanges. Once the negativity starts it keeps going and going. It is generally used as an offensive way to protect ones self.
Successful couples don’t get into this easily. If they do they get out quickly.
The second danger sign is Invalidation. This is more harmful in an emotional nature. It involves belittling one another with various subtle or not so subtle put-downs.
Sometimes this occurs with one of you trying to help out or improve in an area, but that isn’t good enough for the other. An example could be what many women do when men try to help out around the house. "That isn't as clean as I'd get it. I might as well do that myself." Men can certainly do this to women too picking at their wives because they don't do something like mom or in other ways.
Sometimes this is very subtle but if the person mentions that the comments hurts he or she hears, “You are just too sensitive.” Another subtle invalidation is, “You need to do it my way.”
Invalidation can also be direct. "That is stupid." "This is dumb." "Only a moron would do it that way."
It can be toxic and destroys relationship. It takes discipline to stop the destructive pattern of invalidation and learn to validate the others perspective. It's important to learn that validating the perspective of another doesn't mean you have to agree. Validation is a sign of respect, but not necessarily a sign of agreement.
The third danger sign is Negative Interpretation. This is assuming the worst about your partner. It involves seeing what your spouse does or says in a negative light. We'll talk more later about expectations and mind reading which fall into this category.
Negative interpretations contain no grace. They are all judgment and the judgment is guilty. When one makes a mistake the negative interpretation is, “You did this on purpose just to hurt me.”
If you come from a home of alcohol or other type of abuse this can be prominent. In these homes the rules of 'don't talk, don't trust and don't feel' are passed on to the children. Growth in this area usually involves individual work as well as a couple.
The fourth danger sign is Withdrawal or Avoidance – This is either physically or emotionally pulling away, shutting down or leaving during conflict.
Note the passage from Ephesians 4:25-27
“25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26"In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Ann and I used to start our fights an hour after sundown so we'd have 23 hours to be mad at one another. :)
See the progression of the passage. Not dealing with issues (v. 25) leads to anger (v. 26), which if not dealt with appropriately leads to a bigger spiritual problem (v. 27) and damage to oneness because the Evil One has a foothold.
This was a significant problem for us. In our early years we just did the silent treatment for a couple days and then swept our issues under a rug that gradually rose up to the ceiling. Conflict avoidance is a big problem for many folks who were taught that above all being Christian means being nice.
Avoiding avoidance boils down to sharing what needs to be shared in a timely and appropriate manner and then the devil will not be able to wiggle into your relationship. And he likes to get in there and leave a trail of destruction.
Where do you see yourself in these danger signs? Begin doing what you can do to eliminate them from your conversations. We'll talk more about how to do that in the next few posts.