Relationship Enrichment

Relationship Enrichment

A reader requested that I offer marriage counseling in my blogs. I’ve decided to share ideas for relationship enrichment that can also be applied to parents/children, siblings, the work place, with friends, and in clubs, churches and class rooms.

As I opened the door for a couple who were coming for their scheduled appointment, I was met with an exuberant Al who said, “We are really in love”. When they were seated, Marlene pointed to Al and said, “You talk”.  “Well,”, he said, “She left me for a couple of weeks. I came home from work and could tell right away that she and some of her things were gone. I don’t want that.  It was a wakeup call. I understood that language.”

My gaze shifted to Marlene for her side of the story.  “I was so tired of our fighting that went on for days, that I separated not just for me but for him.  I love Al, but could not stand the tension. So, I went to a friend’s house.  I let him know that I was okay. In the couple of weeks apart, we’ve talked and seen each other. Things are much better.” Marlene wisely sought refuge; she walked away from being threatened, misunderstood and hurt.

For several months they had worked on improving communication and the importance of trust and respect, had a good grasp of each other’s temperaments and the accompanying assignment to be respectful of their differences. They had always said they loved each other, but each doubted the other’s love and vacillated about their mutual trust. This was the second marriage for each which carried apprehensions along with being totally opposite.

Al is confident Extroverted, Intuitive, Spontaneous and a head-logic Thinker—ENTP--who enjoys heated and noisy discussions, while Marlene is Introverted, Softhearted, Sensing--hands-on, structured and easily hurt—ISFJ--who must have harmony.  Not an easy match at the beginning.

Some of you may remember an earlier blog about my ISFJ sister married to an ENTP for 30 years who disagreed about everything until they took the MBTI and discovered each was okay and as the light bulbs of understanding came on, they announced that they went on a second honeymoon.  Our family saw huge differences in their marriage relationship and communication after that. So, I was confident that Al and Marlene would arrive at the same conclusion and learn to trust each other and discuss differences respectfully and kindly.

We had discussed all the angles of healthy communication and I was under the impression that they had ironed out most of their problems and would soon have smooth sailing. But they still struggled with putting the necessary conversational adjustments into practice when a new disagreement arose.

“What changes have you made, Al”?  His response was zipping his mouth. Then he said, “I have changed the way I talk. My mouth is my worst enemy. It took her leaving to make me realize I’d better shape up before I lose her.”  He said what I had already voiced many times.

“I believe we can have a great marriage,” Marlene said. “We are doing so much better”.  “I do love him but just couldn’t stand how he condescended to me making me feel like I know nothing and do nothing right.  And I am scared of him much of the time. I don’t think or talk as fast as he does, but he refuses to give me the time I need to respond to his arguments or name-calling.  I’m just not use to that treatment. We need to learn the right way to argue.”

We started at the very beginning reviewing the three parts of communication that we had previously discussed in detail.  “If you recall, one part is 60 percent, one 30 percent and the last 10 percent. Together, they remembered that body language is 60%, tone 30% and context 10%.

“It’s evident that you’ve added another communication influence—separation.  When discussion gets too hot, some sort of separation to cool off is an excellent approach even if it’s merely walking outside or into another room. “

You both vow that you love the other”, I began, “but it takes more than love to deal civilly with difficult disagreements.  Several attitudes must precede healthy communication. Can you remember what they are? They pondered for a while then Marlene said “Respect”, Al added. “Being honest, telling the truth.” “Al stretches the truth all the time which I regard as being dishonest”, Marlene slipped in.” I always wonder if he’s actually telling the truth.”  I said “Trust is the most important attitude. When trust is broken, it takes a long time to rebuild it.”

Talk about what’s on the table”. Al added.  “Jim and I agreed on this when we realized it took us forever to end an argument because we both brought up prior infractions. When one of us would attempt to attach an old discussion the other would say “Let’s stick to the problem at hand”.

“There’s an important tactic and simple talking point for non-offensive, respectful and kind communication.”  After a brief silence, “Oh, I know, using I statements and avoid saying ‘you’, Marlene proudly recalled. I complemented both of them on making high marks on my pop quiz. Let’s review.

When one brings up old business, the other can quietly remind “I want to stick with just one thing that we’re discussing.”  Eliminate using “you” in any argument followed with ‘should, ought, must and need’--the war words—or accusatory words ‘always, never’, you aren’t listening, ‘you are not looking at me, or ‘you don’t understand where I’m coming from’.

Using non-offensive magic honest ‘I’ statements such as “I prefer to talk about this later,’ I am upset about what you purchased without my knowledge, I dislike being yelled at, I need time to think this over, right now, I’m too tired to discuss money problems, I’d prefer to discuss this after the kids are in bed, I agree with point 1 but dislike point 2, I’m getting too upset to continue right now.”  A positive and safe approach is using “I prefer statements” or “I’ll wait for an ‘I’ message. Using ‘I’ statements is the best way to guarantee honesty without fear.

I have no professional proof except just from my own observations and listening to groups of Thinkers and Feelers exchanging opinions during seminars that thinkers enjoy arguments more than feelers.  Some Thinkers--male and female--even admit they start arguments on purpose. Disagreements are normal and discussions necessary but heated arguments can be avoided. Thinkers are wise to consider the legitimate sensitivity of soft-hearted Feelers and wrap their words in tender understanding.  Smiles, soft tones, warm touches and hugs also come in handy in resolving disagreements agreeably.

Some people, mostly men, share that they dislike their mates or friends bringing up argumentative issues on automobile trips when they are a captive audience.  I recommend keeping conversation pleasant when listeners are unable to walk away and use car-time to discuss non-explosive subjects, listen to music, an audio book or read aloud. Both be ready to say “I’m not comfortable with this conversation.” Especially respect whether or not the driver is introverted and easily wearied by conversation or noise. Merely enjoy the peaceful silence of being together.

O Lord, I call to you: come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.  Psalm 141:1-3 (NIV)