Steven and I experienced another Sunday under the spotlight at Five Stones this morning. Once again, it was as if Pastor Greg had a hidden camera in our house and preached a sermon directly targeted at our marriage and ways we could improve our communication with one another. So again, I figured if his words of wisdom are valuable to me, they might be valuable to other married couples - or really anyone in any kind of relationship - romantic or not.
Pastor Greg cautioned against four "foxes" that are detrimental to marriage - allow these attributes to fester in your marriage too long and you just might end up divorced or in a contemptuous, love-empty marriage. Like a menacing fox in a beautiful garden, these acts of malice and destruction wreak havoc on our marriages.
Criticism - this act targets a particular person in an accusatory manner. For example - "You always...", "I can't stand it when you...." When you begin criticizing your spouse, you immediately put them on the defensive - instead of addressing their actions, you address them. It isn't that you want them to change their action, it's that you want them to change themselves. Instead of addressing them - try to address their actions. Use phrases such as "I feel XXX when you..." or "It makes me frustrated/concerned/upset when..." This will help your partner understand what they are doing that causes you to become upset without making them feel attacked or belittled.
Contempt - contempt manifests itself as an attack through harsh words, tones or mannerisms. Phrases such as "You idiot!", "How could you be so stupid!?!", "What were you thinking?" Once again, this fox causes your partner to feel attacked. Instead of name calling or going for the "low blow", take a time out. Breathe - focus on what the fight is really about - don't lash out and make things personal.
Defensiveness - this fox is a direct result of criticism and contempt. When a partner becomes defensive it becomes even more difficult to address the problem. We become less likely to listen and communicate clearly - the purpose of the fight is now to prove ourselves, prove our worth - the fight is no longer about the original issue, it has become personal.
Stonewalling - stonewalling also occurs as a result of criticism and contempt. This happens when a partner shuts down completely. When a fight becomes too much, one partner may retreat emotionally and all lines of communication close. Facial features go blank, responses become non existent and it becomes impossible to reach an understanding or settle the argument.
When Pastor Greg first started talking about criticism I thought, "Oh yeah - that's right Greg - you keep talking to Steven because he is WAY too critical." Almost everything he said about criticism mirrored Steven's actions in our big fights. I sat there with a big smile on my face feeling a little self righteous. Then Greg moved onto contempt. Oh no! Just keep talking about criticism! He pretty much put a HUGE nail in my shiney self righteous coffin. I resort to name calling and low blows far too often when our fights get out of hand (this could be one of the main reasons our fights get out of hand!) I know exactly where Steven's sensitive buttons are and I go for the kill shot.
Not only did Pastor Greg call us out regarding our unfair fighting tactics, he also described how each of us respond perfectly. Steven becomes incredibly defensive. My harsh words leave him feeling as if he must prove his worth as a man, prove that he is a good husband and it isn't pretty when he is on the defense. I on the other hand resort to stonewalling. When things become too hot to handle, I shut down completely. Although I am more than happy to contribute to the heated argument, I rarely am willing to take the steps necessary to make amends - I'm too exhausted, too fragile, too hurt. So the fight ends. I refuse to speak anymore, I retreat to another room and 10-15 minutes later we pretend as if World War III never happened - we're magically happy again.
Mind you - this doesn't happen often. Thankfully, we are learning to communicate well enough that these knock down dragouts happen less and less frequently, but when they do, they always end badly.
Once again, I feel like we have both learned a little something about each other. We are committed to "fighting fair". I look forward to hearing what Pastor Greg has to say next week - I feel as if this is the best free marriage counseling I've ever gotten! If you want to hear Pastor Greg's sermon for yourself, feel free to visit Five Stones Online.