Communication is behavior

When it comes down to it, the healthier the family, the more effective the communication. One of the primary problems of any dysfunctional marriage or family is lack of quality communication. Communication is behavior. It’s an action word. It never stops. Communication is the means and not always only the goal. Communication is more about the interaction than the outcome. You can win the battle and lose the war in communication all the time.

When communication fails in a marriages and families, it is usually not because of the content but rather the relationship. I always smile when I ask couple is premarital counseling, “How well do you communicate?” No one has ever said, “Horribly!” They usually respond to me by saying that they can tell each other “everything” or that they can talk for hours. One year after they are married I always invite them back for a conversation. Invariably, the couples say, “Our number one problem is communication.”

A study was conducted at Michigan State University on communication between teenagers and parents. Dr. Gordon Sabine measured the responses of three thousand teenagers and their parents. The bottom line was that 79 percent of the parents interviewed thought they were communicating with their teenagers, but 81 percent of the teenagers said that their parents were not communicating with them. Communication is about perception.

Most of us didn’t grow up with very good role models for communication, and if we don’t learn helpful tools, we will continue the dysfunction and pass on poor communication skills to our children. If our parents resorted to the “high-volume solution” with each or and with us, we will find ourselves doing the same thing when we are desperate. If sarcasm was a part of your family growing up, the odds are, you will need to work harder not to make this one of your communication killers with your spouse and children.

Here are some communication strategies that I have found work to build healthy communication and relationships within marriage and families:

Actively listen

Listening is the language of love. Listening communicates value, significance and worth. Good listening skills include:

giving a person your undivided attention

looking past the content of the words, taking notice of tone and body language

maintaining an accepting and open attitude

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reflective and respectful questioning to help clarify your understanding

appropriate verbal responses to what is being communicated (i.e. not giving a blank stare, but replying — even if it is something like “I’m not sure what I think about that.”)

Learn and use love languages

Gary Chapman wrote an excellent book entitled The Five Love Languages which he has identified as 1) Words of affirmation; 2) Quality time; 3) Receiving gifts; 4) Acts of service; and 5) Physical touch. Chapman says that most of us have a primary love language and perhaps a strong secondary love language that we prefer — although all of them can be important to good communication and relationship. Knowing, understanding and using the love languages that your spouse and children prefer will help build strong family relationships.

Communicate honesty and integrity

Don’t try to portray the illusion that you are perfect. You know better, as do your spouse and children. Believe it or not, owning up to your imperfections helps to improve communication. Admit your mistakes, apologize, and take the perfection pressure off. Admitting your mistakes clears the channels for real communication and removes barriers that may be building up. Admitting mistakes promotes sharing and oftentimes creates warmth and understanding.

Healthy communication takes time

How much time are you giving your spouse and children? If you are largely absent from your family (either physically or emotionally), communication suffers. All healthy relationships require good communication. Good communication requires your presence. If you are routinely away from home, find ways to stay connected with your spouse and kids. One of the blessings of technology is that we are not lacking for ways to stay connected. Use texting, phones, and video technologies (like FaceTime and Skype) to keep lines of communication open.

When it comes to staying connected with kids, I disagree with the parenting specialists who say that if you can’t give your kids a quantity of time, then give them quality time. I think your kids deserve both. I found that my finest discussions with my own children came during the quantity times, not the so-called quality times. I’d be driving one of the kids someplace and — bingo! — the conversation went to a very important topic. I just slowed the car down and goot in as much time as possible.

Work through conflicts

Conflict can either be a path to communication blockage and unloving behavior, or it can be a path to deeper communication, greater understanding, and loving behavior. When there is conflict with our spouse or children, our natural inclination is to get defensive and to cut off communication with the intent to protect ourselves. In the short term, it may be easier to handle conflict this way. However there is a better way. The better way is to try our best to be non-defensive and open to learn. With this in mind we must assume responsibility for our own feelings, behaviors and consequences. Working through the conflict takes greater emotional involvement, but it is the loving way to care for yourself as well as for your spouse and your kids.

Copyright © Jim Burns. Used with permission.