My mother-in-law has moved to town. . . one street over. Believe it or not, this is a good thing in many ways. We get along well. We’ve even traveled together. But this is the first time in 34 years of marriage that Greg and I have lived in the same city with his mom. We now have a whole new set of things to communicate about!
Through the principles of Better Marriages (previously called Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment – ACME), Greg and I have learned the importance of “couple dialogue”. We use I Messages and avoid “always” and “never”, we communicate fully our self awareness and we practice attentive listening skills.
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As time approached for his mother’s move, Greg and I had ample opportunity to dialogue about our expectations and the importance of boundaries. We discussed the specifics of daily/weekly interactions with Mom, the division of labor related to day-to-day support and concern about the added level of stress to our already busy lives.
Amidst all this talking, we were reminded of statistics from a Kodak study: only 7% of communication relates to the actual words we choose, 38% relates to tone of voice and a whopping 55% relates to nonverbal – facial expressions, body language, etc.
I have to confess, I’m the queen of nonverbals. It’s a natural gift. And it often causes problems in our communication! Even when we’re using our best communication skills I’m often unaware of my gut reactions – the grunts, groans and sighs that are almost imperceptible.
Greg is usually gracious to say something like “I hear you say__but I see you___. . . is there more going on than you’re telling me?” This checking on incongruencies is helpful to me. Rather than react defensively, I often will say “I’m sorry. I think there might be feelings I’m not fully aware of.” And then I take the time to ponder what’s really going on for me. I’m always a better communicator when I’ve taken time to become more self aware. In fact, I think my Mom taught me to “think before I speak” – what a wise woman!
When it comes to communication, there’s a lot to juggle. I find great encouragement to know that communication skills are learned – we’re not born with them fully developed and we don’t pick them up by osmosis. I’m thankful also that there are tools available for helping us learn to communicate more effectively and more lovingly.
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At the Better Marriages Fiesta, July 7-10 in Albuquerque, Greg and I are training instructors to teach Couple Communication. There’s still time to register – and still time for us to continue to brush up on our skills!
Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing!