Can we talk?
I can’t tell you how many people come to couples counseling with an agenda to make the other spouse believe and do what each thinks needs to be done. Constantly, I am placed in the position of “making” the husband do what he is supposed to do or “making” the wife be a better wife. This, of course, is the joy of counseling because these are the prime scenarios that hint at a larger problem: the need for really effective and empowering couple’s communication. It takes time, effort, and a Christ-like heart to listen to the other without trying to get your word in, seeking to understand as fully as possible without pushing your agenda onto the other.
How does a family, be it a marriage and/or the children, actually talk with each other in the family system? In reality, it is harder than it seems because there are many parents who would say that “family communication” with the children is really about them doing what they are told and not getting into trouble. Many children would say that “family communication” is the parents staying out of their hair! But communication is about mutual respect, mutual connection, and mutual relationship, one based on the exchange of ideas. The only way a family system can truly communicate effectively is if it has the healthy tools in place to ensure everyone gets respect, everyone gets heard, and an intentionality in place that works the process.
I remember when I was younger that my parents would tell me I could always come and talk to them with any concern or problem I had. Well after the first 5 issues that I came to my parents with, and getting punished or in trouble because of those things, I learned very quickly NOT to share with them what I was feeling or struggling with. Though on the outside I looked and sounded like the best son possible, deep inside I had problems and issues I wrestled with but never felt that it was safe to share. I learned not to share my feelings because it always got turned against me in some way. It was much later in life that I learned to risk that hurt and those repercussions in order to seek the help that I needed. But all the while growing up, I felt this sense of frustration at the mixed message.
We may tell others that they can come and talk to us about anything but then do we, in turn react in such a way that prohibits effective communication? Do we show lack of respect for a differing view, do we try to push our viewpoint on the other because we know it is the right thing to do? Do you as a parent need to be more sensitive to the emotional needs of your children? What about your marriage? Can your spouse feel completely safe to come to you and share, even something difficult or challenging? Can the two of you disagree with each other in a way that brings mutual respect and continues the relationship in healthy ways? I believe that it is imperative we keep working on the art and tool of healthy communication in our marriages, families, friendships, even in the church. We need to work harder to communicate in ways that promote mutual respect, mutual connection, and mutual relationship to the glory of God and to the health of the relationship.