A gentle answer turns away anger, but a sharp word causes anger. Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
In my circle of friends it’s a well known fact you’ll do better sending me a carrier pigeon then calling my cell in an emergency. Years of journalism school and a public relations career forced me to “pound the pavement” on the phone from pitching editors and chatting up clients all day.
Or at least that’s my excuse for why I leave my ringer on infinite silent. Talking on the phone is right up there with folding laundry or putting dishes away. No thanks.
However what sounds somewhat sane in theory is really a problem in an emergency.
Or at least when your house alarm goes off and you don’t check your phone for the security company’s call. Or the police call. Or your husband’s call – be it his first call or his fifth call. Whoops. There I am at the gym helping a friend through a back workout on the weight floor and I catch site of him. He’s not tough to miss at 6’6″ – but in his dress clothes angrily walking through the gym at 10 AM he stands out even more.
What could have gone really bad on full display for all of my gym buddies to bear witness actually turned out alright with five little words I try to pepper into our disagreements, unmet expectations, misunderstandings and let downs.
Or in more laymen terms: our fights.
Five words you say? Yep. But they must be said with genuine empathy or they come off snarky and cause more troubles.
So what’s needed?
A humble heart to start.
Understanding we all mess up – sometimes before the coffee has even cooled down – and we all are in desperate need of grace from one another.
So what are they?
“I’m sorry I’ve upset you.”
If you don’t already have a chasm to cross then said with a true heart for reconciliation this will pave the way to finding forgiveness faster.
And if you do have a history of conflict, disappointment, regret or a hardened heart then these five words are a start to bridging that chasm.
A sweet former University of Georgia football player (Go Dawgs!) who is a grandfather, successful community leader and mentor to many of us told me that he and his wife only ever fought about raising kids and spending money. Now the kids are gone and the money’s plenty so they finally have a happy home life.
I know this was tongue in cheek but it is kind of true for many of us in the plenty of kids/not plenty of money stage of life.
So how do we communicate with one another in times of disagreement or dispute when the hours are sparse, the patience limited, the sleep missed and the kids are everywhere under foot?
Is it first with kindness?
Or the need to “win” in an argument. Are you more prone to say “I’m sorry we are fighting” or “Bring it on chump” when the gauntlet is thrown down?
Several of my girlfriends responded to a question I put out on “what did you say you would never do as a mom BEFORE you had kids?” The responses were hilarious and so spot on, however many were self convicting that went something like this: “I swore I’d never fight in front of my kids.”
So many of our disagreements, tense conversations or outright arguments spring from a communication breakdown.
“You thought my tone was sharp in that text? You didn’t get what I asked you to get at the store!”
“You snapped at me when there was no need so I’m snapped right back.”
“You brought up an old fight during this new fight so game on.”
“You never support me in front of the kids so I’m done being nice.”
And on and on it goes. Unfortunately miscommunication or our expectations not being met can be the spark to fan the flames of marital discord.
And there have been plenty of times where I do know that I am right, in fact I’m inclined to announce to my husband and the world that I’m right. In fact I’m more than happy to showcase my fabulous skills of remembering every and all past details leading up to the current point of tension. It’s as though I feel God gave me this gift of stellar memory so it would be a sin not to use it “for his glory.” Who’s with me here?!
Anyone use the righteous anger card? I have a right to be indignant! I’m not in the wrong here. How dare he!
Yet in James 1:20 it’s noted in The Message version that “God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.”
The creator of the universe doesn’t need me to set my man straight – especially in a demeaning and degrading fashion.
Time and again polls of “what a man wants in a relationship” hit upon the same word no matter the source. Guess what it is? Somebody cue Aretha. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Men desire respect in their work relationships, their friendships and yes in their partnerships. And it’s beyond respect for what they do be it working hard or finishing a project around the house. It’s respect in conversation and discourse between the two of you.
Funnily enough, respect doesn’t come up in women’s polls. Wooing, caring, protection, knowing we are loved, being heard and plenty of other emotionally driven heart warmers that y’all could outright guess. The list reads like a popular chick flick. My inner feminist from college days shudders at the reality, but my current wife status nods in agreement.
So when I had my Ah-Ha moment that my hubby and I were on the same team and need to fight like teammates not opponents I had to switch my outlook. In response to this outlook change I wrote another post titled “Adam and Eve at the Marriage Counselor” that you can catch up on here.
One major change I had to make was choosing to use gentle words at the start of a disagreement on purpose. Re-framing my go-to of not listening but rather jumping in verbal fists raised to defend myself. My other go-to is the mature reaction of pointing fingers out the gate to shift blame. Remembering to apologize how things are awkward or messed up is a fine opening sentence. “I’m really sorry we are arguing” goes a long way when you truly mean it.
And then you can have the disagreement and carry on through the muck that needs to be figured out – but it’s done with an end goal of togetherness. Not winner takes all.
So how’s it going over here? I’d love to say it’s all unicorns and cupcakes when we disagree but it’s not. The potential for misunderstanding is great, hurt feelings are always possible and we mess up with this empathy thing time and again. But we are trying to do this marriage thing better.
However we talked finances the other night (in the past always a guarantee for an angry ending by both parties) it took me praying under my breath to remember what’s important to my hubby. So when I calmly heard myself say “look I need you to hear me on this” instead of fighting out the gate we trudged forward in peace. I even willingly gave up the floor out of respect to hear him speak. Shocking stuff over here folks! Huge growth for me and at the end my husband said “I can really see you’ve changed your style. That was actually pleasant. Thanks for hearing me out babe.” Big growth for both us.
Maybe this adulting thing in marriage can work. Stay tuned friend!