Recently, my wife purchased a copy of US magazine and on the cover was "Mariah Dumped." I thought wow! That's an insensitive headline. Who wants to see that in midst of losing a marriage? Nobody deserves that kind of venom. I've worked with Nick on several projects and he has always been a consummate professional, courteous to co-workers, well prepared, and respectful. I've never met Mariah but when they married some six years ago I was rooting for them. I'm still rooting for them to make it. Yet, I understand what it's like to face the very real prospect of divorce. I wonder if the 'C' word is part of the problem; the word is communication.
When my wife and I conduct marriage workshops and ask the group about expectations, "learning to communicate better" is a consistent goal. Your marriage can be made or broken by how well or poorly you communicate. While we all know this to be true, somehow we still fail miserably at the art of communication with those we love most.
Last week my wife and I were having a discussion on an important subject and an argument broke out. Has this ever happened to you? This reminded me that when my wife and I have been at odds, invariably it came down to something I said or didn't say, or the way I said it, or the way she interpreted what I said. You get the point.
After being misunderstood for many years, I decided to shift away from the frustration and toward possible solutions. Throughout our 20 year marriage I've discovered that when communicating with your significant other on a sensitive subject where you hold different opinions is "context is as important as content." Here are six tips I've learned about communication:
1) Plan: Schedule a time to talk about the sensitive subject, don't just launch into it randomly. Without a plan you're setting yourself up for failure.
2) Stay Open: Enter the discussion with an open mind without attachment to a particular outcome. In many instances we enter discussions already rooted in an immovable position. That won't help you or your spouse. This also precludes you from jointly finding an even better outcome.
3) Pause: If an argument breaks out, pause the discussion and revisit at another time. When you press on in argument mode someone will leave the discussion feeling defeated. That's not a good thing.
4) Acknowledge: Be sure to acknowledge points that your significant other makes during the discussion. This does not mean agreement, just acknowledgement. Which means 'I hear you.' You want to be heard and so does your loved one.
5) Be Curious: Become curious about "why" your spouse feels what they feel and thinks what they think about the subject. This can reveal insights and connections that you would never know without asking a sincere and gentle "why?" And asking "why" are you so crazy does NOT count!
6) Agreement: At some point a decision will likely need to be made about the subject. Whether you are deciding to move or determining how to discipline the children, you have to come together. Someone may have to follow the opinion of the other. This is not defeat for the person being flexible, rather it's a time to seek a negotiation that is necessarily not all or nothing.
I have no clue what the issues are in Mariah and Nick's marriage. But I do know what its like to have young children and live apart from them. As we were rapidly moving toward divorce, I was 100 percent sure my marriage us over. It was only after doing some serious introspection, evaluation and a whole lotta praying that I was able to move back into to my home and start to be the father and husband I yearned to be.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your lovely children. It ain't over unless you both truly want it to be.