Is Your Communication Starting To Sound Like Barking And Growling?
Sometimes couples who start out communicating with love and kindness, build up so many unresolved issues and so much bitterness it is like they have angry dogs locked in their hearts. When this occurs, their former words of adoration and appreciation may deteriorate to barking and growling.
I am going to tell you a true story and then make a quick marriage application.
It was late in the evening and I was counseling my last client of the day. As far as I knew, we were alone in a large building. I kept hearing an odd noise so I asked him if he heard anything. He agreed that he too heard something unusual, so I opened the door to peak down the hall. It didn’t sound like it was coming from my floor so I closed the door and concluded our session.
When I walked him downstairs, the noise grew louder. We both agreed we heard a dog barking inside the building. Before walking out the door, he shared his concern that I be careful since he said the dog sounded really agitated. He suggested I call animal control.
Before making the call, I whispered a prayer, and went in search of the dog. I got further freaked out, when it’s intermittent barking suddenly turned into one long, frightening growl. I wasn’t sure I wanted to find him, and wasn’t sure what I would do once I did.
I walked into the open door of a kitchen and came face to face with the largest dog I had ever seen. It was as broad as it was tall.
Ok, it wasn’t exactly a dog. It was more like an industrial sized refrigerator and its motor was making some really awful noises. Mystery solved.
Now I am going to apply the story to marriage. So here we go.
Sometimes, we have angry dogs locked away in our heart. Our spouse can hear them barking and growling—wanting to be released. It all comes out in our interactions through subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And nothing seems to get better. Only worse.
Usually, when we have locked away anger and resentment, Dr. John Gottman says there is a strongly held value or unfulfilled dream embedded in the core.
The only way we can release the angry dogs in our hearts is to express what we want and need. But how do we do that? Here are 3 tips.
Tip #1: Make sure there is a safe atmosphere in which to be open and vulnerable.
If you fear physical or emotional abuse, seek help. If that isn’t your fear, find the appropriate time and place to talk. Since you are putting yourself out there, you want to know you are safe to talk. Tips 2 and 3 will address how to talk to your partner.
Tip #2: Use softened startup.
Make sure it is also safe for your spouse to hear what you are going to say. Don’t bark or growl. Talk!
Dr. Gottman’s research shows that if a spouse brings up an issue in a harsh way, 96% of the time, it will end in a harsh way. He can predict with startling accuracy how a conversation will go—even how a marriage will go.
A harsh startup means the spouse is being very accusatory, maybe using always and never to drive home the point. There may also be labeling and analyzing such as, “You are lazy or you are selfish.” I often hear one spouse diagnose the other with a personality disorder. Ouch! These conversations aren’t going to go well and you won’t get what you want.
The best approach is to say what you want to say in a way that your partner can digest. That means with respect and concern for the other person as well as advocating for what you want.
Tip #3: Clearly and succinctly express what you want and need.
I often hear couples comment that they have no idea what started a fight or even what it was over. For most people, fighting isn’t any fun. If you do fight, be clear what it is over.
More often than not, someone will have misunderstood the other person. That is why it is so important to use softened startup and be clear with what you want and need. Don’t leave your partner confused.
Gottman talks about stating your need as a positive—what you want and not a list of complaints. Be clear in your mind before you talk, what it is you want and need. State your feelings such as, “I feel sad and hurt that we don’t spend much time together. I would really like to go on a vacation with just the two of us.
I see too many couples where the dogs have been locked away for years and there may be a lot of barking and growling going on or there may be a lot of distance—a thick door that stands between you and your spouse.
Don’t let that door stay closed. It can be opened up. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
I love helping couples better communicate, and I have the training and experience to accompany my passion. Even before I was a counselor, I was a speech teacher. But don’t wait any longer. Time doesn’t heal everything. It may only get worse.
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