In working with couples who are struggling in their marriages or relationships, I tend to find that solid, purposeful, and attentive communication is usually the one thing that is either lacking or simply not there at all. Further, it seems the longer that people have been together, the less they find themselves truly talking and listening to each other.
A good example is “Amber” and her husband. Amber let me know that she was just sure her husband was seeing someone else and it was tearing her apart inside. They had been married for over 22 years and their only child had just taken off for college out of state and now Amber and her husband were empty nesters. Amber shared with me that while they both loved their child with all their hearts, they had spoken many times about all of the things they would begin to do together once their child had moved out. But once their child did move out, they no longer seemed to be talking about all of those great things, much less actually doing them. In fact, their communications with each other had all but dried up it seemed. They just seemed to go to work, come home, eat, and then as Amber put it to me “we were living completely separate lives right under the same roof!” How absolutely sad that was to hear!
Let me assure you that God never wants us living in this manner. Firstly, we were created to have an intimate relationship with God. Secondly, we were created to be in relationships with others. From the very beginning, God saw that Adam was lonely by himself in the Garden of Eden and therefore God created Eve as his companion. God tells us, “It is not good for man to be alone”. Amen to that!!
So I asked Amber how her communications were going with her husband. She started to generalize with me and I had to stop her right away. I needed her to be specific – give me a word for word example of your typical conversation. She told me this story – “normally we both get home about the same time each evening. We sit down in the family room to rest and normally I begin by telling him about my day at work, and that usually includes a lot of things that frustrated me during the day.” I asked if her husband makes eye contact with her and does he participate in the talk or just listen? Amber said that he starts by looking at her, but soon after, he has his phone out and then it turns into a “uh-huh, uh-huh” situation as he responds to her. Amber went on to say that when she is done, her husband starts to liven up and talk to her about his day, but then she finds herself looking at her phone and answering emails and responding back with “uh-huhs” as well. Do you see anything valuable happening in these conversations? There is no attunement here at all.
What is attunement? Attunement means “to get in tune, or on the same page with, someone else in communication. Showing care, concern, and understanding to someone speaking with you.” Attunement often goes hand-in-hand with reflective listening, which is saying to someone, “Wow, I can see that this is really upsetting to you – is there anything you would like for me to do, or do you just want to let it out and tell me about it?”
Attunement and reflective listening are lost arts in today’s iPhone ruled world. Believe it or not, we are still humans who want, and NEED, to be listened to, heard, understood, and loved. As I see it, it is impossible to show this to others when your face is in your phone! What your really saying to the other person is this – “my phone and my email are more important than you right at this moment, but I’m Superman and can do twenty things all at once so please continue with whatever you were saying!” Ouch!!!
I worked with Amber and her husband on taking the first 40 minutes after they get home from work and putting their phones away. They now sit down at the dinner table with coffee, or their favorite drinks in front of them, and then they take turns talking about their days, the things that bother them, the things they struggle with, and then they end with ‘Ok I’m done. Your turn, and thanks for listening!” They look at each other when they speak and they say things to each other like, “Gosh that was rude of that person – did you say anything to them?” or “I can see how that would upset you – is there anything I can do?” Can you see the difference in this kind of conversation? They acknowledge each other – they show caring for each other – and they clarify if the other person is asking for their help or just venting. This is how conversations are meant to be!
They admitted at first it was hard to do, but after about the third week, they looked forward to this time together and now they cannot think about not having this special time to just unwind, get things off their chest, and then invest in the other person by truly listening and caring about them and what is going on in their lives!
Amber recently shared with me that she and her husband are now taking long vacations together and even having special date nights where they continue their special “talk” time. Amber now realizes how her mind had immediately taken her to the dark place that her husband might have been cheating on her, when in truth, they had just stopped effectively communicating with each other in meaningful ways. Both Amber and I are very glad she reached out to me for sure.
Do you find yourself in a similar situation to Amber? Do you feel like your talking to your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend but they just are not there with you even though they are sitting right in front of you? Or are you the one looking at your phone, or watching television, or reading while others are trying to talk with you? If so, I hope Ambers story will come to mind for you and help you realize you are actually hurting those who are trying to invest in you, and those who are trying to love you! Those emails can wait, and you can record any television show and watch it later! Give your full attention to your spouse or kids when they are trying to talk with you and you will find your relationships getting stronger and stronger, just like Amber did!
If you or your family need help getting back to what real communication is, please feel free to reach out to us at God’s Light and we will certainly help you to regain true, meaningful commincation in your family!
May God Bless!
Pastor Brad Komgenick