Jack and Janie have been married for years.
Many of them, happily.
They both loved the Lord. And they both thought they were doing what was best for their marriage.
But lately, it just hasn’t been working.
This is Jack’s take…
I believe communication in marriage is important, so I try to communicate with her. I share with her what I’m feeling and thinking. I want to talk about the tough issues and work through them.
But she doesn’t. She just leaves the room whenever I try to work through the hard things with her. She doesn’t treat my perspective as if its valid. And she’s not willing to own the things she does wrong. She’s so mean sometimes, but then she won’t talk about it.
And it’s not just that she won’t talk about it. She gives me the silent treatment. I mean, we’re grown adults. But she gives me the silent treatment. Sometimes for days. And sometimes, it feels like she won’t even look at me.
Communication is important in marriage, and she’s not communicating. We’ve got to communicate more if we’re going to save this marriage.
It sure sounds like Janie is doing it all wrong, huh? But there are always at least two perspectives to every story.
Here’s Janie’s take…
I’ve loved being married to Jack. Our first years were great. But the last several years, I just can’t seem to do anything right. It doesn’t matter what I say or what I do, he’s upset. If I pick up extra hours at work to help pay the bills while he’s looking for a job, then he gets mad and claims I don’t want to be around him. But if I don’t pick up the extra hours, then he says I don’t care about our marriage and our future. If I make a lunch for him, he says that I think he’s incapable. If I don’t make a lunch for him, he says I don’t care about him. It doesn’t matter what I do, it isn’t right.
Sometimes I don’t even do anything! I just live, and he says I don’t love him or don’t care about him. He gets so upset and goes on and on. I don’t know where he comes up with the things that he does.
Sometimes I just try to pretend like I don’t exist. It seems like existing makes him upset no matter what I do. So I try to tip-toe around and act like I’m not there. It seems to work ok. It doesn’t seem to rouse the grizzly in him.
But sometimes it doesn’t. And he just unloads with all these hurtful, hateful, unfounded things. My counselor told me when he gets illogical and so upset, to simply excuse myself and let him know I can’t be around him right then.
I don’t know where he comes up with the things he communicates, why he thinks them, or how to change it. We have got to quit this communication if we’re going to save our marriage.
Now whose right?
As we mentioned, there are always *at least* two perspectives to every story. Here is a third!
It sounds like Jack is doing his darndest to save his marriage as best he knows how. And he’s right – communication is essential to a healthy marriage. But more communication only helps if it is healthy communication. If it is destructive communication, it just causes more damage.
It sounds like Janie is doing as best as she currently knows to protect herself from destructive communication. Though Jack is not intending to be, his communication sounds abusive. When Janie feels that abuse, she removes herself from the situation. Though she is not intending to, Janie’s protection of herself comes across to him like the silent treatment – which, ironically enough, is a form of abuse.
Neither are intending to abuse the other, yet both feel abused. Both are seeking as best they know how to protect the marriage, yet instead, their actions are hurtful to the other. Both feel like they are fighting for their marriage, yet to the other, it just feels like they are fighting.
Now I know one little tweak can’t solve everything, but it is a start. And I think E is a valuable place to start.
It seems that the root of the issue – or of their ability to solve their issues – is abusive communication. If Jack learned how to communicate nonabusively, Janie would not feel a need to retreat and protect herself. Yet if Janie retreated more effectively, Jack would better understand that he was doing something hurtful, and he would have the opportunity to understand that she was not pulling back from their marriage – simply from the abusive communication.
All she needs to retreat more effectively is E.
As Janie throws her PIES, she Prays, then she politely Interrupts Jack,
“I need to interrupt.”
Her next step is E: Explain briefly.
“Presuming to know my thoughts and motives and negatively characterizing them is verbal abuse, and I will not be abused.”
It is not a long explanation. It’s not a lecture. It’s not a defense nor an attack. It’s a sentence or two brief explanation that states her position.
The value of this is manifold.
- It lets Jack know exactly why she is retreating. It is not because she is unwilling to work through the tough things. It is not because she wants to give him the silent treatment. It is not because she does not care about their marriage. It is because she expects to be treated nonabusively.
- It gives Jack a path. Though he may not agree, at least now he has an opportunity to know that better understanding verbal abuse could open the door to better communication with Janie.
- It affirms Janie. It does not attack Jack. Importantly, it is not trying to convince or teach Jack. It simply states her position. As she opens her mouth to speak, she affirms that she can influence being treated as a beloved child of God.
- It brings things into the light. Satan thrives in shoving things under the carpet. While it can take so much courage for Janie to clearly state her ‘E,’ it is so worth it. The Lord is a God of clarity. He thrives in the light.
This clarity is critical, yet it is often the hardest. Janie may think,
“Of course he knows what he’s doing is hurtful. Who would talk to another person that way?”
The key is what we call ‘the last 10%.’ It is that last 10% of clarity that makes all the difference. It can feel like stating the obvious. It can feel like confirming what seems evident, yet often, it’s where the critical pieces of clarity lie.
Janie’s E gives the last 10% of her retreat. Her brief, clear explanation gives the key Jack was missing in understanding what was going on. It names the problem. It calls it out. And so much of a solution is accurately identifying the problem.
Stating that last 10% is hard. Stating it clearly and directly takes determination. It takes courage. Yet don’t all problems worth solving?
photo purchased from 123rf.com
NOTE: Janie of course is not responsible for Jack’s verbal abuse. Even though it stinks to be put in an abusive situation, we are responsible for how we respond. As in any situation, though we may not at all be responsible for the situation, we are responsible for how we respond to the situation. As Janie comes to understand that the attacks she feels are caused by verbal abuse, she articulates that. This gives Jack clarity and offers the possibility of direction towards solution.