by Nancy Van Pelt
“While we were going together we spent so much time talking,” Sharon shared. “We were best friends. I could tell Ed anything and he shared everything with me. Now we hardly ever talk and when we do, we argue. We can’t discuss the smallest matter without tempers flaring. Is there something wrong with us?”
Sharon and Ed married with the platitude “If you really love each other you will work everything out” ringing in their ears. Not necessarily! The more a couple loves each other, the higher the expectations are for success and the greater the potential for hurt and misunderstanding.
Sharon and Ed knew how to solve their problems only by talking them out, but if there are misunderstandings, hidden angers, and indirect messages, talking won’t solve the problem. Continued discussion merely gives exposure to more confusing talk, which drives both partners up a wall. Without realizing it, Sharon and Ed were engaged in a game of mutual aggravation.
The advice “talk about it” given to couples with communication problems assumes that each can state what he or she means and the other can understand what is said. Focusing on the words alone to see what sparked a crisis won’t cut it. The real culprit is more likely in the body language, tone of voice, unstated implications, assumptions, meanings attached to the words, or resentment from past experience.
The time a couple spends talking assumes great importance, for talk can either bring two people together or it can distance them. How a couple talks to each other can either build or destroy a relationship.
Through talking, we can express feelings, convey emotions, clarify thinking, reinforce ideas, and make contact with a partner. It is a pleasant way of passing time, getting to now each other, releasing tension, expressing opinions, and deepening intimacy. The basic and most important function of speaking, then, is not the giving of information but the establishing of a relationship. The quality of this relationship depends a great deal on the ability of each to express himself verbally.
Killer Talk: Messages of Pain
Much of our everyday talk consists of alienating messages that can be aptly described as “killer talk.” We get so used to using some of these phrases that we become unaware of how offensive they can be. When a partner rects negatively, we accuse him of being oversensitive or overreacting. Here are some killer messges that are guaranteed to make your partner want to leave home.
The “solution sender” weights down his speech with orders, directions, and commands. “Get over here.” “Hurry up.” Warning and threats fit here also: “If you ever do that again, I’ll. . . . Another habit is moralizing: “You know enough not to . . . .” Most of us resent being told we must, should, or better do something.
Many people resort to put-downs in spite of the fact that we know what it feels like to be discounted. Put-downs judge, criticize, and blame: “Not a bad idea, considering you thought of it.” They name call, ridicule, and shame. “You’re a slob.” They interpret, diagnose, and psychoanalyze: “You say that only because. . . .” They attempt to teach: “Honey, we shouldn’t act like that in public.”
Dr. James Dobson tells of a game husbands and wives play. He calls it Assassinate the Spouse. In this destructive game the player (usually a husband, he notes) attempts to punish his wife by ridiculing and embarrassing her in front of their friends. He can hurt her when they are alone, but in front of friends he can really cut her down. If he wants to be exceptionally cruel, he’ll let the guests know how stupid and ugly she is – the two areas where she is the most vulnerable. Bonus points are awarded if he can reduce her to tears.
Then there is the “corrector.” For example, while the wife tells a story to friends, her husband helps her keep the facts straight: “We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant last Wednesday.”
“Not Wednesday night, honey. Tuesday.”
“After dinner we went shopping, and I bought this gorgeous dress on sale for only $50. It was a steal.”
“The dress cost $80 plus tax!”
A corrector has the compulsion to concentrate on proper reporting of facts. Such interruptions are often attempts to draw attention to self. They show a gross lack of sensitivity in not allowing someone else to tell a story the way she remembers it.
The “judge” tries to second-guess what will come next.
A wife might say, “They are featuring a really good program at the church Wednesday night.” Her husband doesn’t wait to see what point she is going to make but cuts her off with, “Yes but we’re not going.” He assumes he knows what she was going to say. Man miscommunication problems could be avoided by clarifying what you think was meant before leaping to a conclusion.
The “topic switcher” changes the subject before meaningful communication can take place or when he does not wish to discuss a topic.
Some people bicker or quibble, raising trivial objections to dispute an event seen differently by others.
Some are “topic avoiders” who refuse to discuss certain subjects.
“Topic overkillers” talk excessively about a subject.
“Underresponsiveness” speaks for itself–it describes the reactions of those who say too little in response.
A list of killer talk is almost endless. You cannot control killer messages sent by your partner, but you can stopo killer messages you are sending. When you do, you will notice you and your mate drawing closer to each other without conscious effort. You will feel closer when you don’t have to deal with residual hurt accumulated from killer communication.
Adapted from Smart Listening for Couples.