Or as Tim prefers to call it…Our Rules of Engagement.
If you missed part 1 with rules 1-5 read this first.
When you do things, do not let ·selfishness [rivalry; selfish ambition] or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more ·honor [regard; value] to others than to yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (EXB)
Talk, discuss,fight, argue,disagree or communicate… Whatever you call it, you have to commit to engaging one another continually, both with your joy and with your heartache. The alternative is stuffing, piling up old laundry…none of it is good and all of it will destroy.
When couples get engaged and start preparing for marriage they often start to plan and envision what their married lives will look like. They frame out timelines for careers, moves, and children. The wise ones discuss financial goals; who will pay the bills, how they will prioritize their free cash, what percentages will be saved for retirement. If they don’t have a hard and fast plan at least they have some general ideas and try at a minimum to get on the same page.
Few, very few, plan for conflict. It may be touched on in their pre-marital counseling, but it’s awkwardly glossed over like the fast talking at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial. Rarely is any couple fluent in healthy fight. Maybe it would seem counter intuitive and planning for conflict somehow would seem as odd as a life boat drill would have seemed at the departure of the Titanic’s first trans-Atlantic crossing. A little more crisis planning prior to that fateful April night may have saved hundreds of lives. Likewise in marriage if we have a “plan” for conflict before it happens, it can be handled in a healthy, pre-orchestrated way and it makes that conflict feel like a normal, healthy part of the relationship.
Kaye and I didn’t necessarily have a plan, but through hard work and a little luck, we have developed some guidelines that have helped us through conflict. As with most things in our lives I will build the framework and Kaye can decorate it with feelings and emotions.
First, there needs to be a foundation of trust. During the emotions of heated conflict things can be said and insinuations made that smolder long after the skirmish is over. If there is not a solid foundation of trust it doesn’t take much of a breeze to re-ignite that ember.
I laid that foundation early on in our marriage by telling Kaye that “Divorce is not an option for us. I said I was committed to this marriage and we had no other options than to work through our issues or live miserably. By removing that doubt in her mind we poured a solid foundation on which to build. From that starting point we have developed our “Rules of Engagement”.
Kaye-When Tim says he laid a foundation, he spoke to me in a tone of gentle love and commitment. He was not laying down the law, or demanding something from me that i did not want, it was a pledge of commitment to me not a demand put on me. Having said that, in this case i do believe Tim had the right and responsibility to set this standard for our home and i was called to be his helpmate in remaining faithful to the vows we had taken together before our Lord.
6. Get your “Buts” out of there. Not literally of course, but the word “But” is a great eraser of progress. It usually happens like this. “I understand that you have been trying hard lately to show me that you love me, BUT . . .” As soon as you say the word “But”, you have lost the listener and neutralized all the healing power of the words said prior. I know it is VERY hard to have a give and take discussion without it and there may be times when it is needed and used, but just be aware that it can be counterproductive.
Kaye-sometimes you have to surrender your needs and know that your “issue” can wait a few days for another discussion. Because i work so hard to bring us into communication, it is very wounding when bare my heart becoming vulnerable and Tim now feels freedom to also be real about his pain, not always taking time to really hear mine. There have been times i have said, “i started this discussion because i was miserable, you don’t get to hijack the process with all that bugs you about me, start your own discussion if i am not meeting your needs.” Perhaps i could be more mature, gentler or thoughtful in my wording but the point is still the same, you cannot shovel all the muck out of your relationship in one day. Commitment and constant hard work is what it will take. Both spouses have to learn to initiate and accommodate the process.
7. Be aware of male/female communication styles. Men attack logistics and are problem solvers. They would prefer to get in, get it fixed, get out and move on. Women need to explore the emotional aspects of the situation along with the logistical solutions. By trying to immediately find the solution and ending the discussion, you will make her feel that you really don’t care about her, only in keeping the peace (I speak from great experience here folks). For women, they need to be a bit sensitive to the fact that you may lose your man if in extended play mode. Emotions are a second language to him and he is not fluent. Don’t expect a Masters level discussion on feelings – especially in your early years of marriage.
Kaye-i’m a mess here; words, words, words, emotion, emotion, emotion. Tim deserves a badge of some type for hanging in there for “the rest of the story”. i care, i try and then i talk, talk, talk, again.
8. Stay with it no matter how long it takes. Really!! 1 AM, 2 AM, 3 AM. By disengaging without resolution, you get to start at the beginning again the next time.
Kaye-Stay with it no matter how long it takes. Really??? 5 years? 12 years? Going on 34 years? Most of our conflict processes contain this sentence at some point, “Here we are again, the same stuff , the same hurts, the same misunderstandings!” This is where many say “I want to quit! i am tired of this.” Tim will always be very male; i will always be very female. Tim will always be a strong introvert, i will always be an over the top extravert. Our misunderstandings and conflicts have become few and far between because we have developed a plan for dealing with our difference and we choose to embrace the differences not because the differences that stretch us have disappeared.
9. Love keeps no record of wrong. Do not drag old arguments into the current conflict. By doing so you prove you haven’t truly forgiven. Keep the discussions on target dealing with only the matter at hand.
10. Be prepared to accept partial responsibility for the current situation before you begin the discussion.
Kaye- Be committed to finding your responsibility, owning it and apologizing for it. Every coin has two sides, every hurt has a counter wound to it, care more about your partner’s pain than you care about being right.
Here are a couple other thoughts on the subject. Early on in our marriage I realized Kaye was very emotionally wounded from situations in her childhood. She was very insecure in masculine relationships. I found I could crush her with the simplest tease or playful comment. I just instated at that time a “no-tease zone” in our marriage. Teasing can be fun, but if there is just a sliver of insecurity in a relationship it can be read as a “safe” way to insult someone or tear them down. True feelings can be hidden in the tease and the recipient is left wondering if the comment was truly in jest. Once in a while I see this happen with couples. I can feel the salt being rubbed into an old unhealed wound. “Oh, I was just kidding – don’t be so sensitive” the attacker may say which I interpreted as “I’m really a callous jerk who doesn’t care about my spouse’s feeling”.
After 30 plus years of marriage Kaye and I have found areas that we feel secure in and make fun of (with) each other, but those areas are still lightly stepped in and a solid foundation of trust was laid prior.
And finally, familiarize yourself with “Love Languages”. Find out what your spouses is as well as your own. Giving love to them in their own language will communicate your love and commitment to them with far greater impact than random acts of affections that are not in their native tongue. The 5 Love Languages are; Words Of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Physical Touch, this so so very helpful.
You can find out what your languages are here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
There is a library of Love Language books available here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/resources/books/
Really great resource for learning Marriage Communication: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/communication_and_conflict.aspx